''As saltwater crocodiles stalk Australia's waterways, Al Jazeera investigates if they should be culled to curb attacks on humans.
Heralded as the 'animal most likely to eat a human', saltwater crocodiles are a common feature in Australia's tropical north. The ancient predator is the world's largest reptile, growing up to seven metres long and weighing more than a tonne.
Once endangered due to commercial hunting, their numbers had dropped dramatically to just 3,000. However, following the introduction of protection laws in 1971, this steadily increased, with scientists now estimating their population at more than 100,000.
They are now so prevalent that saltwater crocodiles have been found in swimming pools and living rooms in the northern city of Darwin. But with more crocs, comes a higher chance of attacks on humans.
The most recent fatality was just few months ago. On January 26, a 12-year-old boy was taken by a 4-metre-long croc as he swam with other children in a swimming pond in Kakadu National Park. Park officials claim the area was well signposted as a crocodile danger-zone. Two of the fatal attacks in the past few months have involved indigenous children.
The relationship between crocodiles and the indigenous population goes back more than 40,000 years, with the crocodile revered, respected and a source of food. Just 500 crocs can be legally hunted with commercial licenses a year, many by indigenous people, who earn a maximum of $2,000 for each croc. Some elders are also calling for the government to allow trophy hunters to catch and kill crocs with their assistance. They would like to see hunters paid $20,000 a croc.
The Australian saltwater crocodile's natural predatory nature begins at birth, according to a Charles Darwin University study. The study found that of seven different species, the saltwater croc was not only the most aggressive but is also prone to belligerence from the minute it leaves the egg.
They claim that if you dive off the Adelaide River bridge, 60km east of Darwin's city centre, and start swimming, there is a 100 percent certainty of being taken by a saltwater croc. Researchers also launched the world's first crocodile attack database - CrocBITE - last month, in an attempt to confirm reports that harmful or fatal incidents are increasing.
The attacks have led some members of the community to propose the government allow safari hunts to begin again. The federal government is expected to make a decision in November. But scientists say this could exacerbate the problem as crocodiles are already controlling the size of the wild crocodile population.
Saltwater crocs are very territorial and the larger ones eat smaller and younger crocs if they encroach on their territory. Scientists say if the larger ones are selectively removed, the population could be expected to expand. A cull may also give people a false sense of security and they may be more likely to swim in waters where it is unsafe to do so.
Tourism operators and some members of the Aboriginal community are opposed to culling crocodiles. Tourism, based on wild and captive crocodiles, is the mainstay of the Northern Territory, attracting holidaymakers from across the world. It is the Territory's second-largest industry and its largest employer. National and international documentaries and media attention on the Northern Territory's successful crocodile management programme is arguably the primary vehicle through which 'Top End' tourism is promoted against competing destinations.
Scientists say that after the recent attack, more tourists will learn about the Northern Territory through the media, and in a macabre twist, there will be an increase in tourist bookings.
Farming crocodiles for their skin and meat is another lucrative local industry. The Territory now supplies 50 percent of the world's premium-grade skins. Crocodile farming, based largely on ranching (collecting and selling wild eggs), generates some $25m per year in skin sales for the international high fashion industry and has extensive commercial flow-on effects in the community.''
Napoleon, thanks for this overview of the situation in Australia and salt-water crocs. The photos jump off the page, they are so clear and beautiful, at least as far as nature goes. The federal government's expected decision in November seems a long time away while crocs are breeding so fast and culling the big one is counterproductive.
It amazing that crocodiles have been around or over 250 million years while we have only been around for 100 thousand years or so. They were the top predator until man invented the rifle and were nearly extinct before they were protected law. Thy are invincible once again and only their eggs are vulnerable to predators. They have started reclaiming territory which they occupied before the riflemen arrived and which people now live on, hence the number of human fatalities. It's a bit like Florida where people have built homes and live in alligator territory and the animal must be continually captured and removed.
Crocodiles can be bred like chickens and I see no problem in farming them for meat and leather. I think money talks and if there is any culling of the wild crocodile population it will be minimal to protect the tourism industry. As the Aboriginal Australian man said, we have to respect them and keep out of their domain as much as possible.
The crocodiles are like a creature straight out of the Cretaceous. If you imagine a world full of variants on that them, some 30 feet long or more ... it was a world of Jaws. Large Jaws. And giant animated garbage disposals and tree shredders.
I was curious about crocodiles and alligators in the Florida Everglades, but apparently they aren't as dangerous as the Aussie crocodiles.
I wonder how crocodiles/alligators ended up all over the world - did their eggs float places? The creatures themselves don't move very far.
Yes, I'd love to try a crocodile steak or crocodile egg omelet.
The continents of the world were once just one big landmass and the separation occurred gradually over time. Also sea levels have oscillated and land/ocean bed heights have changed.
Those giant animated garbage disposers must have been terrifying but cute little warm blooded, furry, milk producing mammals like us didn't emerge from their burrows until the end of the era of those numerous cold-blooded carnivores.
The crocodiles/alligators emerged about 83 million years ago, when the continents had already separated. But the continents were much closer together than they are now, so maybe that explains it.
They haven't changed a lot over time, apparently their Jaws Waiting Under Water lifestyle works very well. Which also helps explain how they are similar around the world. Here's a crocodile from the Cretaceous:
And here's a video of continental drift. Speeded up, thankfully :)
In the vernacular people refer to 'crocodiles' as an animal which appeared around 250 million years ago and so diversified up to 83 million years years and sooner. The guys on the wild-life programs say the crocodile has been around for 250 million years but the specialist scientist will be less ambiguous. You can check with the experts.
The crocodiles/alligators diverged from the dinosaurs and birds ~250 million years ago. But back then, they didn't look much like crocodiles. Here's Xilousuchus:
I liked watching Steve Irwin's series Crocodile Hunter where he man-handled crocodiles but drew criticism from other naturalists for unnecessary interference with the animals. However, he demonstrated how to handle them humanly and his methods have been adopted by the experts responsible for the continual capture and removal of crocodiles from urban areas.
Compared to the Aussie Croc, the American alligator is soft and placid. Steve Irwin demonstrated that in one of his shows.
The crocodiles from the Cretaceous were a lot bigger than the modern ones. Deinosuchus from the late Cretaceous was about 10m long, and Sarcosuchus from the early Cretaceous looked like a giant gharial, up to 11-12m long.
But the biggest crocodiles nowadays are only a wimpy 6m long:
I wonder if a lot of creatures in the age of the dinosaurs had a size competition going - maybe that's part of why they got so big.
Anyway, I do enjoy these strange ancient beasts. And strange modern beasts.
Over and over, the Earth's continents have assembled into one giant continent, broken up into smaller continents, which smashed into each other to form a giant continent again. According to Wikipedia,
The movement of plates has caused the formation and break-up of continents over time, including occasional formation of a supercontinent that contains most or all of the continents. The supercontinent Columbia or Nuna formed during a period of 2,000 to 1,800 million years ago and broke up about 1,500 to 1,300 million years ago. The supercontinent Rodinia is thought to have formed about 1 billion years ago and to have embodied most or all of Earth's continents, and broken up into eight continents around 600 million years ago. The eight continents later re-assembled into another supercontinent called Pangaea; Pangaea broke up into Laurasia (which became North America and Eurasia) and Gondwana (which became the remaining continents).
This breaking up and re-forming is called the supercontinent cycle. Why this has happened is unknown, and the mechanism may even change over time.
Didn't know there was more than one separation.
Years ago these species appeared on Earth:
100,000 homo sapiens
We are just babes in the woods, and it is probable we will be instrumental in suffocating all oxygen breathing forms on the Earth.
The good news is, we have brains to figure it all out, bodies that can do the tasks needed and motivation to make colossal changes in our lifestyle.