The latest findings of the Queensland Estuarine Crocodile Monitoring Program estimate local crocodile populations number at least 20,000 non-hatchling animals.
Dr Matt Brien from the state Department of Environment and Science is a coordinator of the state’s wildlife program. He led the three-year crocodile monitoring program and said crocodile populations were clearly recovering since historical hunting had almost decimated them 40 years ago.
“The population recovery has been relatively slow and highly variable across the ranges of species since the unregulated hunting of estuarine crocodiles for their skins was banned,” Brien said.
“The average rate of population growth for the species across its range is 2.2% per year and only 20% of its population is found south of Cooktown.”
Queensland’s crocodile monitoring survey estimates that there are between 20,000 and 30,000 non-hatchling animals throughout Queensland. The numbers are a promising indication for the reptiles, which have had a slow recovery since they became a protected species in the 1970s after decades of unregulated hunting (mostly for their skins).
According to the department, crocodiles are now common in most northern Queensland waterways but they can sometimes be encountered outside traditional ‘croc country’.
Dr Brien noted that the survey showed spatial distribution of crocodiles across the state had not changed, and there were no signs the crocodiles were moving southward in their range.
“Due to the limited amount of suitable nesting habitat, the Queensland crocodile population is not expected to reach the size or density of the Northern Territory crocodile population,” Brien explained.
He also added that while crocodile numbers along the state’s east coast have increased, the average size of the animals have decreased.
“This is a likely consequence of the Queensland government’s crocodile management program, where crocodiles assessed as posing a threat to public safety are removed from the wild – with more than 450 crocodiles having been removed from 2004 to 2019,” Brien said.
The state government has announced $12 million over the next four years to make its CrocWise program permanent and ensure the ongoing management of crocodile populations.
The department has also had its program reviewed by crocodile specialists from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), including monitoring design, and technical report.
Queensland’s chief scientist, Professor Hugh Possingham, has now been tasked with leading a committee to review the state’s crocodile management program and the findings of the technical report.
Environment minister Meaghan Scanlon said ensuring human safety was the top priority in funding the crocodile program. She said many residents of northern and far north Queensland had lived during a time when crocodile populations were relatively low, after being hunted to near extinction.
“Our highly trained team surveyed rivers in Cape York and the Gulf and as far south as Maryborough on the east coast and detected no crocodiles south of the Fitzroy River, Rockhampton,” Scanlon said.
“The chief scientist will now review the data, and what it means for our communities.”
The minister suggested that the government response to the increased crocodile population may involve a review of how scientists and wildlife officers responded to population trends, as well as a review of education campaigns.
“It might mean we need to target our CrocWise program to more places like beaches and watering holes, where people may not have never seen a crocodile before,” Scanlon said.
“While crocodile populations aren’t like that in the NT, we have wildlife officers on the ground who remove problem crocodiles – and this survey will allow rangers to now look at how they can build on that expertise.
“But it remains crucial for people to continue to be vigilant when in croc country, whether that’s following the signage, reporting crocodiles, staying away from croc traps and fishing safely.”
Queenslanders who spot a crocodile are encouraged to report the sighting via the free QWildlife app or by calling 1300 130 372.