Sunday, October 4, 2009

Crocodile Hunting: Australia rejects safaris to manage population

Sharks are not the only predators subject to discussions regarding their numbers and possible interactions with man. In the Northern Territory of Australia, crocodile populations have increased from a record low of 3000 in the 1970's, for both salt and fresh water species, to an estimated number today of 80,000 for just the saltwater species alone. The increase was the result of legislation that protected the crocodiles and limited any government-sanctioned culling to 600 per year.

But with that apparent ecological success story and the unfortunate deaths of four people by crocodiles, all in the month of March of this year, the Northern Territory government proposed "crocodile safaris" to allow tourists and trophy hunters to increase the number of crocodiles hunted with the idea that would correct the problem of crocodile-human interactions.

The proposal was rejected by Australia's environment minister who has, instead, increased the number of eggs that can be harvested and the number of crocodiles that can be legally culled.

Peter Garrett, environment minister, said,
“I am of the view that safari hunting is not a suitable approach for the responsible management of crocodiles.” The prime minister of the Northern Territory has said that he would continue to press for the safaris.

This situation brings into question the entire issue of how does one "manage" any species to sustain its population, if management is required at all? With tourists and hunters entering the picture, one could not guarantee that the most "appropriate" animals would be taken - appropriate meaning older mature males or females who have had the opportunity to reproduce (if this is applicable to crocodiles; and I must admit I know little about them).

Another issue to consider is the circumstances behind the rash of human fatalities. Are crocodiles encroaching upon humans? Are humans, through increasing development or urbanization, encroaching upon the reptiles? Is the Northern Territory, when in a healthy environmental condition, an area where these and other types of animal interactions are to be expected? (A crocodile cruising down the main street in Miami is one thing; a croc resting near the green at the 9th hole of a golf course next to the Everglades is a different story.)

And then there's the concept, suggested by some, to let nature take its course, that the growing population of crocodiles would ultimately self-regulate based on available prey and natural selection (an increased population can also mean more sick and less "successful" crocodiles which would, over time, ultimately impact the population and balance it out in line with the overall ecosystem). The counter-argument would question how long this natural selection would take, since the current Northern Territory crocodile population has been growing steadily for over 30 years.

Sharks in the oceans, mountain lions and coyotes in the hills, even lions in the savannahs - all have populations at risk and all have the potential for human interaction. If we choose to regulate the species ourselves, we must do it with an eye on the entire health of the ecosystem in which they live and to remind ourselves who is encroaching on who.
Read entire article in Embrace Australia.

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