G'day reader, my name is Crocodile Mick and I have been a crocodile hunter and manufacturer of crocodile products for 36 years.
Crocodile safari hunting in the Northern Territory is a controversial topic. A lot of people are for this proposal and a lot of people are against it.
One of the biggest problems I am seeing is getting across to the public that hunting and harvesting crocodiles in the NT is already happening. It has nothing to do with animal survival, it's purely an emotional, knee-jerk response from people who don't handle crocs for a living.
Currently in the NT up to 500 crocodiles are harvested by crocodile catchers each year. These are often problem animals that are eating livestock. Also, up to 70,000 crocodile eggs are taken from the wild for crocodile farms.
This is governed by the Northern Territory Crocodile Management Plan, a permit system which allows us and others that are licensed "experienced people" to harvest crocodiles. My preferred method is harpooning the crocs with a small harpoon that causes minimal pain and damage to the animal. It catches under the skin, which is thick, and doesn't penetrate the croc.
I pull it closer to the boat, tie its jaws shut, secure it close to the boat then dispatch it swiftly from close range with no suffering for the animal. Only the nominees on the permit are authorised to shoot the crocodile and no one else is to engage in the dispatching of that animal.
We take down all the information: sex, size, what it looks like, the GPS coordinates, dates and in some cases video evidence. We also film the dispatch shot so there are no grey areas. These reports are sent back to the government on a sometimes weekly basis and they oversee the process. And guess what? It works. The land owner gets a problem crocodile removed and the crocodiles can be utilised by the catchers or landowners for revenue.
Crocodile hunting, harvesting and farming currently occur in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia, and crocodile products -- skins, manufactured leather products, teeth and taxidermy -- are traded domestically and internationally in a variety of forms on a daily basis.
Contrary to what some people would like to make you think, the crocodile is NOT endangered. This is misleading the public and making uninformed opinions which only confuse the issue. There is a proper management program in place here in the NT to ensure the crocodile's survival for the future. In the mid-'70s the 'government experts' controlling the management plan suggested there were around 5,000 crocodiles in the NT and the numbers were a real concern. Realising this, they banned crocodile hunting and drafted a plan to ensure the ongoing survival of the animal. Today they are quoting around 100,000 crocodiles in the wild, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that the numbers now are at a record high.
What can be done to manage the resource?
Safari hunt objectors argue that large iconic animals will be targeted but data from the experts shows that it's the 3-4-metre animals that are in abundance. These are the ones that should be targeted for safari hunting, leaving the iconic crocodiles in place unless an individual is causing a problem. Everyone has the right to see a majestic crocodile in its natural environment. It's where I have been working with them my whole career and I would never wish to take that away.
Crocodile hunters live and operate by the Code of Practice on the Humane Treatment of Wild and Farmed Australian Crocodiles. This is a 30-page document that outlines the code on all levels. The commercial crocodile harvesting industry is comprised of both wild capture and captive breeding on farms. It covers a very large, already established industry that is always a work in progress. We always need to look at ways to improve and utilise the natural resource to its maximum potential.
With that in mind, this is how I see the simple change to the conduct of the safari hunt. By maintaining my current methods, I would simply change the trigger puller of the gun in a process that is already happening, resulting in a huge economic benefit to the landowners, the catchers, the traditional owners and the community at large.
Yes, this new industry would have to be heavily regulated and accredited, but this is a huge positive! In my humble opinion we currently have the world's best management plan for crocodiles in the Northern Territory. There are many talented people who have put countless hours of work in to get it where it is today. Crocodiles are a protected species and the industry is governed by the Federal Government overseeing the management plans of each state.
I strongly encourage heavy regulation in this proposed safari industry to ensure the animal remains at the centre of everyone's focus. At the moment crocodile hunters get only a very low economic return. By introducing safari hunting we will increase the value of the animal to the highest possible return, potentially adding interest across the board to look after the crocodile.
This is a win-win situation for the crocodile hunters, livestock owners, land owners and the community as a whole, as well as -- most importantly -- the animal itself. At the end of the day economics will breed conservation and conservation will breed economics. I would rather earn maximum dollar for the animal in a heavily regulated and licensed environment and give it the value it deserves. I would rather this than to see it rot on the banks of the river or wasted in some other way.
Thanks for your interest. Good on ya!
Mick Pitman is a crocodile hunter and renowned expert in taxidermy. His expertise with crocodiles, together with his stories and knowledge, have taken him from Croc Hunter to TV Adventurer on the Discovery Channel, Ray Mears: Close Encounters and The History Channel's Outback Hunters series. For more information visit here.