Crocodile management in Queensland is a vexed issue, particularly on the heavily populated east coast of north Queensland; it is an ongoing source of controversy, dissention and strident demands for increased or changed actions by government. That the dissatisfaction continues is proof enough that present policies and their implemented actions are not working.
The Queensland government has two fundamental but inherently contradictory responsibilities relating to crocodiles: an obligation to conserve them, as well as an obligation to keep people safe from them.
- The obligation to conserve crocodiles derives from the Nature Conservation Act 1992 and through Australian government legislation and international agreements. Crocodile conservation in Queensland includes the need to protect them from being killed illegally for sport or profit, and is set against a background of the wholesale, unregulated slaughter that decimated their populations until they were protected by law in the early 1970s.
- The obligation to protect people from harm has to accommodate and accept the realisation that it is neither practical nor economically feasible to ensure complete safety from crocodiles in and around natural waters in northern Queensland. Risk can be minimised but never removed completely.
Addressing these responsibilities adequately is not trivial in a state as large and complex (physically, biologically and politically) as Queensland. But other governments in Australia and overseas have similar responsibilities and many handle them well. The international effort in crocodile conservation and management over recent decades is justifiably regarded as a significant success story.
Wildlife Queensland appreciates that humans take precedence and, in human populated areas adjacent to native reserves, crocodile extraction and relocation is often required to ensure public safety. But crocodiles have the same right to live as other animals and even people. The policies and management currently implemented require additional alterations to be fair to both humans and these large reptiles.
The current code of practice for taking, handling and transportation of crocodiles is under review. The previous government’s privatisation of crocodile removal produced a service that was less than transparent regarding where captured crocodiles ended up, went over-budget and was overly rigid concerning techniques implemented. According to the Cairns Post on 14 February 2015, an ill-equipped Dawul Wuru Indigenous Corporation (DWIC) was awarded the contract in 2013 ahead of experienced field experts, without any public communication about the proceedings. Allegedly, the private contractors then had to borrow resources from government departments and failed to disclose the nature of disposal procedures for captured crocodiles. One may even surmise that this contract was the equivalent of an unrestricted, unregulated ‘license to kill’ crocodiles.