Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile - in the Northern Territory of Australia, 2012-2014

 
Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile - in the Northern Territory of Australia, 2012-2014
Management Program
for the Saltwater Crocodile
in the Northern Territory of Australia, 2012-2014

                                              Photograph: Tourism NT
Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile - in the Northern Territory of Australia, 2012-2014
Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory of Australia, 2012 -
2014

Parks and Wildlife Service of the Northern Territory
Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport
PO Box 496
Palmerston NT 0831

 Northern Territory of Australia
First Published 2009
Revised Draft for public comment June 2012

This work is copyright. It may be reproduced for study, research or training purposes subject to an
acknowledgment of the sources and no commercial usage or sale. Requests and enquires concerning
reproduction and rights should be addressed to the Chief Executive, Department of Natural Resources,
Environment, The Arts and Sport, PO Box 496, Palmerston NT 0831, Australia.

Citation
Leach G.J., Delaney R. and Fukuda, Y. (2009). Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the
Northern Territory of Australia, 2009 - 2014. Northern Territory Department of Natural Resources,
Environment, the Arts and Sport, Darwin.

A management program prepared under the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act.

Program Approval

The Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory of Australia, 2012-2014

Approved by the Administrator for the Northern Territory as an approved management program under
Section 34(2) of the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act on XXXXXXX.

Approved by the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities as an
Approved Wildlife Trade Management Plan under Subsection 303FO(3) of the Environment Protection
and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 on XXXXXXX.

Approval of this program is valid until 31 December 2014.
Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile - in the Northern Territory of Australia, 2012-2014
Contents
Definitions and Acronyms ...................................................................................................... 1
1. Introduction              .............................................................................................................. 3
1.1       Aims and Objectives ................................................................................................ 5
1.2       Species.................................................................................................................... 5
1.3       Responsible authority .............................................................................................. 5
1.4       Legislative, national and international obligations .................................................... 5
      1.4.1      Northern Territory ......................................................................................... 5
      1.4.2      Commonwealth Government ........................................................................ 7
      1.4.3      International ................................................................................................. 7
2. Management context ....................................................................................................... 9
2.1     Socio-economic values ............................................................................................ 9
    2.1.1      Cultural values ............................................................................................. 9
    2.1.2      Economic ..................................................................................................... 9
2.2     Population estimates and trends .............................................................................11
2.3     Saltwater crocodile habitat ......................................................................................12
    2.3.1      Protected areas ...........................................................................................12
    2.3.2      Significant wetlands outside reserves ..........................................................14
2.4     Problem saltwater crocodiles ..................................................................................14
2.5     History of use..........................................................................................................15
    2.5.1      Indigenous harvest and use ........................................................................15
    2.5.2      Commercial harvesting and use ..................................................................15
3. Threats and impacts .......................................................................................................15
3.1    Natural predators ....................................................................................................16
3.2    Drought, flood and climate change .........................................................................16
3.3    Habitat loss and modification ..................................................................................16
3.4    Entanglement in fishing nets ...................................................................................17
3.5       Disease ..................................................................................................................17
3.6       Harvesting – general...............................................................................................17
      3.6.1     Harvesting – genetic....................................................................................17
      3.6.2     Harvesting - impacts on other species, habitats and ecosystems ................17
4. Management practices and performance measures ......................................................18
      Objective 1 - To facilitate the sustainable use of Saltwater Crocodiles............................18
4.1         Commercial harvest and use ..................................................................................18
4.2         Permits and compliance..........................................................................................24
4.3         Management-focused research ..............................................................................28
    Objective 2 - To promote community awareness and public safety .................................28
4.5     Removal of problem crocodiles ...............................................................................29
4.6     Community awareness and participation ................................................................35
    Objective 3 - To ensure humane treatment of Saltwater Crocodiles................................36
4.7     Animal welfare ........................................................................................................36

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                                                                  iii
Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile - in the Northern Territory of Australia, 2012-2014
Objective 4 - To monitor and report on the impact of the harvest of
    Saltwater Crocodiles……………………………………………………………………………36
4.8      Monitoring ...............................................................................................................36
4.9         Reporting ................................................................................................................39
5. References                .............................................................................................................40
Appendix 1:           Saltwater Crocodile Background Information ..............................................44
Appendix 2:           Farm Management ......................................................................................49
Appendix 3:           Saltwater Crocodile Densities In The Rivers Monitored In The Northern
                      Territory .......................................................................................................51
Appendix 4:           Annual Milestone Matrix for 2012-2014 Program .........................................58
Appendix 5:           Draft Guidelines for the Safari Hunting of Crocodiles in the Northern
                      Territory .......................................................................................................62

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                                                                 iv
Definitions and Acronyms
Adults
Animals greater than 7 feet (approx. 2.1 metres) total length are classed as adults. This is a
defined size class for the purpose of this Management Program and does not equate to
sexual maturity.

CITES
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

Crocodile Products and By-products
Includes all parts from a crocodile except for skins as defined below.

Crocodile Skins
Includes raw or tanned belly skins (cut along the back), hornbacks (cut along the belly) and
whole skins.

Egg Harvest
The physical removal of an egg from its natural location in the wild and transportation to
another location.

Eggs
Unless otherwise stipulated includes all eggs regardless of whether it is fertile or infertile,
with a live or dead embryo.

Eggs - dead
Eggs that are infertile or contain a dead embryo and/or discarded before placement in an
incubator.

Eggs - live
For the purposes of this Management Program these are eggs initially placed into an
incubator.

Eggs - viable
Eggs that produce a normal hatchling surviving at least one day outside the egg.

EPBC Act
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Commonwealth legislation.

Harvest Ceiling
The Northern Territory’s annual maximum allowable number of individuals that can be
harvested in each of the defined life stages.

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                          1
Hatchling
Animals classed as hatchlings are ‘Young-of-the-year’ and typically less than 2 feet (approx.
0.6 metres) total length.

Juvenile
Animals classed as juveniles are between 2 and 7 feet (approx. 0.6 – 2.1 metres) total
length.

NRETAS
Northern Territory Government Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts
and Sport.

Ranching
As used in the context of CITES, it is the rearing in a controlled environment of specimens
taken from the wild.

RDPIFR
Northern Territory Government Department of Regional Development, Primary Industry,
Fisheries and Resources.

Regional Catchment
Catchment(s) as defined in Australian Surface Water Management Area (2000) that are
grouped for monitoring the crocodile harvest in the Northern Territory.

Total Length
Animal length measured from the tip of the snout to the end of the tail.

TPWC Act
Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act. Northern Territory legislation.

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                        2
1.       Introduction

Saltwater Crocodiles are and always have been serious predators. Co-existing with crocodiles
does present challenges to the Territory community. On the other hand, crocodiles also provide
significant opportunities. They are a valuable resource to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous
people in northern Australia.
A lucrative and uncontrolled trade in saltwater crocodile skins between 1945 and 1971
stimulated intensive hunting that depleted the wild populations to the point of extinction. It was
unclear whether the remaining crocodile population had the capacity to recover when full
protection of the species was introduced in 1971.
By 1979/80, when the population had increased from an estimated base of 5,000 to around
30,000 (Webb et al 1984), a series of fatal and non-fatal attacks occurred in 12 months, along
with an increase in other incidents such as attacks on fishing boats. These negative
interactions with people threatened the conservation program, which was aimed at rebuilding
the wild population back to carrying capacity. Some people opposed any further expansion of
crocodile numbers and widespread culling was actively promoted.
In the early 1980s the Northern Territory Government implemented an “incentive-driven
conservation” strategy, to inform the public of the environmental and economic benefits of
crocodile conservation. Positive incentives were created through commercial activity (tourism,
crocodile farming and ranching) and negative incentives countered by an active ‘Problem
Crocodile’ control program. In such an “incentive-driven conservation program”, there are two
fundamental approaches. The first is to ensure that conservation objectives are being met, and
the second is to ensure the incentives for conservation are maintained. It is not a case of
‘conservation versus development’ but rather both benefiting from successful conservation.
Ranching of eggs (the commercial collection of eggs from the wild and raising into hatchlings)
was considered to be the safest strategy for sustainable use to reward landowners for
tolerating crocodiles. This is because the egg stage is an abundant and naturally vulnerable
part of the life cycle. Furthermore, it resulted in nesting habitat on private lands becoming a
commercial asset worth protecting.
In 1985 Australia was successful in having its population of Saltwater Crocodiles transferred
from Appendix I to Appendix II of Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of
Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) specifically for ranching so that farms could export the skins
produced from the harvested eggs they bought from landowners. In 1987, the first NT crocodile
management program was approved by the Commonwealth and skins derived from the
ranching program began to be exported. In 1994, Australia obtained an unrestricted Appendix
II CITES listing to allow landowners with crocodiles, but no nesting habitat, to also receive
commercial benefits from crocodiles through a wild harvest.
The Northern Territory Government has fostered the crocodile farming industry and in recent
years the NT industry has significantly invested in crocodile farming infrastructure to increase
their capacity. The resultant increased competition for eggs has increased prices for
landowners, including for Aboriginal people in remote areas where opportunities for economic
development are sometimes limited. Skin exports are rising and are predicted to rise sharply in
future years.
This incentive-driven wildlife program has been a major conservation success story that is
seldom played out with large and dangerous predators anywhere in the world. Saltwater
Crocodiles are no longer a threatened species in the NT and have recovered such that they

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                        3
are now abundant. Saltwater Crocodiles are viewed as a valuable commercial resource,
generating wealth and employment which promotes their conservation. The continuation of a
viable and economic crocodile farming industry is recognised as the key economic driver for
this Management Program. The tourism value of crocodiles both in the wild and in captivity
also generates economic activity around the presence of crocodiles in the landscape. The
economic value of the crocodile egg harvest is also resulting in environmental gains through
improved management practices for weeds, feral animals and fire by landowners to favour
crocodile nesting habitat. The Management Program through incentive driven conservation,
explicitly encourages management practices that favour the Saltwater Crocodile and protects
wetland habitats beyond the boundaries of parks and reserves.
Through this Management Program and other strategies, the Northern Territory Government
will continue to assist industry to maximise the investment, commercial activity and
employment generated through crocodiles so that the industry maintains its role as a well
recognised and supported part of the NT economy. The farming industry vision is for the
Northern Territory to grow as a world leader in the reliable production of the highest quality
Saltwater Crocodile skins.
Actions that favour retaining a high abundance of a dangerous predator such as Saltwater
Crocodiles bring a heightened responsibility for public awareness and education. The changing
circumstances that drove the need for the revised Management Program include:
    i)   An increase in the number of landowners wanting to participate in the crocodile
         industry;
    ii) An increasing crocodile population;
    iii) An expansion of farming capacity;
    iv) A recognition that previous harvest levels have not been detrimental to the species;
    v) An increase in the negative interactions between crocodiles and people; and
    vi) An increasing need for public awareness about crocodiles.
This Management Program addresses the balance that is required between conservation
goals, sustainable harvest, growing industry, and maintaining public safety. It focuses on
mechanisms to improve public awareness and safety, on population dynamics, harvest limits
and monitoring the impact of the harvest on population trends.

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                       4
1.1      Aims and Objectives
The aim of this management program is:
To ensure the long-term conservation of the Saltwater Crocodile and its habitats in the
Northern Territory.

The program has four principal objectives:
1. To facilitate the sustainable use of Saltwater Crocodiles;
2. To promote community awareness and public safety;
3. To ensure the humane treatment of Saltwater Crocodiles; and
4. To monitor and report on the impact of the harvest of Saltwater Crocodiles.

1.2      Species
The Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus Schneider) is one of two species of crocodile
found in Australia; the other being the smaller Freshwater Crocodile (Crocodylus johnstoni).
Subspecies or races have not been described. Further details on the status and ecology of
the Saltwater Crocodile are provided in Appendix 1.

1.3      Responsible authority
The Northern Territory Government through the Department of Natural Resources,
Environment, The Arts and Sport (NRETAS) manage wildlife in the Northern Territory pursuant
to the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation (TWPC) Act. The control of all aspects of the
harvest from the wild in the Northern Territory is administered under this legislation. Once
animals are contained in a farm, the Department of Regional Development, Primary Industry,
Fisheries and Resources (RDPIFR) has the administrative role for crocodile farming. These
responsibilities are outlined in Appendix 2.

1.4      Legislative, national and international obligations

1.4.1 Northern Territory

Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation (TPWC) Act
The TPWC Act contains provisions for the management and conservation of native animals
including Saltwater Crocodiles. The Saltwater Crocodile is classified as protected wildlife
throughout the Northern Territory under Section 43 of the TPWC Act. Section 66 of the Act
prohibits the taking or interfering with protected wildlife without a permit issued by the Director
of the Parks and Wildlife Commission or their delegate. It is also an offence under Section 66
of the Act to possess or trade in live or dead crocodiles, crocodile eggs or parts of crocodiles
without a permit. The Saltwater Crocodile is not classified as threatened in the Northern
Territory. It has recovered from the very low population numbers in the 1970s to now being
considered a widespread and abundant species and not of any conservation concern.

It is an offence to possess live Saltwater Crocodiles or their eggs except in accordance with a
permit issued under Section 43 of the TPWC Act by the Director of the Parks and Wildlife
Commission or their delegate (Section 66(2)).

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                         5
Permits to possess and/or trade in crocodiles may be issued by the Director of the Parks and
Wildlife Commission or a delegate in accordance with Sections 55, 56 and 57 of the TPWC
Act. The Director may under Section 57 of the Act apply terms, conditions or limitations to the
permit to regulate the harvesting and farming of crocodiles.

The taking of wildlife by Aboriginal people for traditional purposes, including food, is provided
for under Section 122 of the TPWC Act. Aboriginal people are not bound by hunting regulations
or seasons when taking animals for food or other traditional purposes.

Animal Welfare Act
The Animal Welfare Act ensures that animals are treated humanely; cruelty to animals is
prevented and community awareness about the welfare of animals is promoted. Crocodiles
held in captivity under permit are classified as stock animals under the Animal Welfare Act and
persons must not neglect, or commit an act of cruelty that causes an animal unnecessary
suffering.

Code of Practice on the Humane Treatment of Wild and Farmed Australian Crocodiles
Animal welfare standards for crocodiles are detailed in this Code. All crocodiles must be
managed in accordance with this Code.
http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/trade-use/publications/crocodile-code-of-practice.html

Environmental Assessment Act
New developments for the farming, processing and display of crocodiles will need to meet the
requirements of this Act.

Meat Industries Act
Farmed crocodiles may be slaughtered in abattoirs licensed for the slaughter of crocodiles. In
addition, the Saltwater Crocodile was declared as a game animal on 10 June 2004 (G24)
under the Meat Industries Act which enables crocodiles killed in the wild to be slaughtered for
human consumption in licensed game meat abattoirs according to the national code of practice
for the slaughter of game animals.

Food Act
Crocodile meat is sold for human consumption and this Act provides for the safety and
suitability of food for human consumption.

Livestock Act
Farmed crocodiles are treated as livestock under this Act which provides for disease
surveillance, disease control, identifying and tracing animals and regulating movement of
animals and animal products for the purpose of disease control

Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan for the Northern Territory: sustaining our
resources – people, country and enterprises.

This Northern Territory Government endorsed plan provides the broad framework and a series
of actions directly contributing to the conservation of Saltwater Crocodile habitat and for the
sustainable use of wildlife such as Saltwater Crocodiles.

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                            6
1.4.2    Commonwealth Government

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act
The EPBC Act regulates imports and exports to and from Australia of all Australian native
animals or their parts. The Saltwater Crocodile is a listed marine species under the EPBC Act.
This protects the species and limits the circumstances under which they may be taken. Part
13A of the EPBC Act regulates imports and exports of crocodiles and crocodile products. It
also fulfils Australia’s legislative requirements as a signatory party to CITES (see 1.4.3).
Section 303CH lists specific conditions that must be met for the export or import of CITES
specimens. For CITES Appendix II exports the specimen must be sourced from an appropriate
captive breeding or artificial propagation program, an approved wildlife trade operation, or an
approved wildlife trade management plan.

This Northern Territory Management Program meets the requirements of the EPBC Act for
both international and national activities with Saltwater Crocodiles. This management program
therefore complies with an approved Commonwealth wildlife trade management plan pursuant
to Section 303FO of the EPBC Act. Commercial export permits for crocodiles are issued under
Section 303CG.

A State/Territory management program for wild populations is not required if a State/Territory
elects to limit use to captive breeding. However, even crocodile farms based solely on
captive breeding in Australia have to be registered under the EPBC Act before permission to
export products is granted.

Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act
This Act establishes the Land Councils. A function of the Land Councils is that they confirm
the correct landholders (traditional owners) have given their permission for any commercial
wildlife harvest before TPWC Act permits can be issued. This Act also provides for Section
19 Land Use Agreements which should be in place for commercial crocodile harvesting.
These agreements can provide the conditions of access to land for the purpose of harvesting
and there should be consistency between ALR Act Land Use Agreements and TPWC Act
permits.

1.4.3     International

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
All Crocodilians (including alligators, caimans and true crocodiles) are listed on the Appendices
of CITES to which Australia is signatory. Those species most threatened in the wild by trade
are listed on Appendix I and all remaining species are listed on Appendix II. In most countries
C. porosus is listed on Appendix I. However the Australian, Indonesian and Papua New
Guinean populations are included in Appendix II which allows international trade subject to the
provisions of CITES. The Appendix II listing places controls on international trade in crocodiles
and crocodile products through export permits. A CITES export permit is required for all
commercial exports and can only be issued if it has been determined that the export will not be
detrimental to the survival of the species and that the specimen was legally obtained.

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                      7
Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention)
Australia is also a signatory to the Ramsar Convention. There are plans of management for
two of the three Ramsar-listed areas of the Northern Territory (Stages one and two of Kakadu
National Park) which protect wetlands and their dependent fauna, including Saltwater
Crocodiles. NRETAS is currently developing a plan of management for Cobourg Peninsula
(Garig Gunak Barlu National Park).

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                  8
2.       Management context
2.1      Socio-economic values
In the Northern Territory, crocodiles are an iconic species that attract considerable publicity
and a wide range of community views and opinions regarding their abundance, distribution
and cultural and economic importance. Public and political will to continue conserving
crocodiles and their habitats is closely linked to the net community value of crocodiles being
positive.

2.1.1    Cultural values
The importance of crocodiles in Aboriginal culture is reflected in a complex system of totems
and ceremonies which is still evident among most coastal Aboriginal communities in northern
Australia today (Lanhupuy 1987). Aboriginal communities also regard Saltwater Crocodiles
as dangerous animals. The non-Indigenous community has a diversity of views on Saltwater
Crocodiles from being reviled and seen as dangerous pests to being admired and recognised
as having a significant and rightful place in the natural world. Crocodiles are an important
natural resource for many sectors including Aboriginal communities, the tourist industry and
the crocodile farming industry.

2.1.2    Economic
Harvesting
The harvesting of crocodiles primarily for their skins but also for their flesh and body parts
supports a significant industry in the Northern Territory.

The Northern Territory Government determines the sustainable limits of the harvest and
submits the Management Program to the Australian Government for endorsement (see
section 1.4.2). The landholder has control over access to the resource. The landholder can
therefore decide to:
•     allow or not allow harvest
•     conduct their own harvest or give approval for a third party to conduct the harvest
•     determine the level and form of payment for access to the resource
•     determine any conditions (within legal requirements) they wish to impose on access to
      the resource.

Egg harvest
The mainstay of the crocodile farming industry is the harvest of eggs from the wild under an
annual ranching program. This harvest has operated continuously since the first small trial
harvest was conducted in the 1983/84 nesting season. The annual harvest of 50,000 live
eggs provides a significant employment and commercial opportunity to landholders, in
particular remote Indigenous communities. Although some farms maintain a capacity for
captive breeding, the number of eggs generated from captive breeding is less than the wild
harvest. During the life of this program, the wild harvest of eggs will continue to be the
predominant form of harvest.

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                          9
Animal harvest
In 1994 all restrictions and conditions on the CITES listing of the Australian population of
Saltwater crocodile were removed, which allowed commercial harvesting to expand from the
ranching of eggs to the take of hatchlings, juveniles and adults. However, the commercial
interest in the harvest of these stages has been small. For example, although there was a
quota in the previous Management Program for 500 adults, the commercial take of adults has
been less than 100 animals each year for the last six years. The previous plan was approved
subject to the safari hunting component being removed. This plan proposes that 50 of the 500
adults be taken for safari hunting.

Safari hunting is a specialised form of wild animal harvest where a paying client undertakes the
harvest. The Northern Territory Government supports safari hunting, particularly in remote
areas, and recognises that it must be strictly controlled with all activities conforming to the
highest possible standards of animal welfare and stewardship of the environment. During the
life of this Management Program the Northern Territory Government will trial a framework for
safari hunting with an emphasis on the opportunities for Indigenous participation, employment
and benefit. Benefits to landholders that flow from safari hunting of crocodiles will be
considerable, particularly for Aboriginal landholders and those who currently host or run their
own pig, banteng and buffalo safari hunting operations.

Safari hunting of banteng, buffalo and pigs already attracts local and interstate hunters who
pay not only trophy fees but also for accommodation and other expenses. Safari hunting
operations currently provide trophy fees of up to $1,500 per buffalo and $2,900 per banteng to
Aboriginal landholders. Further, safari operations on Aboriginal land may provide employment
opportunities for Aboriginal landholders in safari operations; either those run by third-party
operators or by Indigenous groups.

The inclusion of crocodile safari hunting is expected to increase domestic and international
interest in the Northern Territory’s existing safari hunting industry. Safari hunting of crocodiles
will increase the financial benefits of the current wild harvesting program and will provide a
much greater return per animal than other wild harvesting. Safari hunting of crocodiles is
projected to provide trophy fees of $5,000 to $10,000 per crocodile to landholders (Indigenous
and non-Indigenous). Crocodiles taken by safari hunters will be taken within the current quota
for wild harvesting of adult crocodiles. Given the financial gains that are likely to accrue, it is
expected that safari hunting will increase the incentive for landholders to protect crocodiles and
crocodile habitats. Safari hunting should not be used as a means of controlling problem
crocodiles.

The Northern Territory’s crocodile management program provides an incentive for Aboriginal
communities and land managers to conserve crocodile breeding habitats through payments to
landholders by harvesters for each egg or animal collected from their property.

There is a small demand for crocodiles as pets and legally acquired stock can be held as pets
under a set of special conditions. A permit to keep is required as detailed under section 4.2.2.

Farming
The NT position in the world market for farmed crocodile skins is small but occupies an
important and significant niche in supplying premium grade skins for high end market fashion
accessories. Between 2003 and 2007 the Northern Territory exported on average

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                      10
approximately 6,000 skins per year both interstate and internationally. Recent farm
infrastructure expansion and increasing holdings of animals indicates this number will
increase significantly. The meat and other products of crocodiles such as teeth and skulls are
also marketed. Whilst the farming industry is small in number of businesses, it is substantial
in economic output with an annual turnover in the order of several tens of millions of dollars.
There are currently six functional crocodile farms in the Northern Territory, which collectively
held approximately 86,000 non-hatchling C. porosus as at end of December 2008. The
Northern Territory crocodile industry currently directly employs between 60 – 100 people.

Tourism
Crocodiles contribute significantly to visitor knowledge of the Top End and viewing crocodiles is
an important expectation or even a “must” for most Top End visitors. In visitor surveys,
Tremblay (2003) reported that seeing crocodiles dominates the best experiences in wildlife-
viewing. While tourists generally prefer to see crocodiles in the wild and this is an increasingly
sought after experience, attractions featuring captive crocodiles are also rated highly and are
popular destinations. The Top End offers a wide range of experiences from observing in the
wild; modified behaviour in the wild; research/educational displays and captive encounters.

2.2      Population estimates and trends
In the Northern Territory, unregulated commercial hunting of C. porosus began in 1945 and
continued until 1971 when the species was protected due to the marked decline of the
population. After protection in 1971, the population of C. porosus in the Northern Territory
increased from approximately 3,000 non-hatchlings (individuals >0.6 m total length) in 1971
to between 30,000 and 40,000 individuals in 1984 (Webb et al. 1984). The population of wild
non-hatchling C. porosus has continued to increase and in 1994 was estimated to be
between 70,000 and 75,000 non-hatchling individuals (Webb et al. 1994).

The current survey and monitoring data provides a measure of the population trend at the
sampling sites and by extrapolation a demonstration of the trend for the total population. The
principal purpose of monitoring the wild population is to provide an objective means through
which any serious general or local decline, due to any cause, can be detected in sufficient time
to effect remedial action. The monitoring program also allows rates of change of population
size and structure (proportion of different size classes and biomass) to be quantified and
assessed, thereby providing an objective basis for adjusting harvest levels as necessary.
Details of the long-term population trends are shown in Appendix 3. These statistics do not
provide a measure of the total number in the population nor is such a statistic required for
management purposes.

The population of Saltwater Crocodiles in the Northern Territory continues to increase as
demonstrated by the trend in the pooled data from monitored rivers (Figure 1) and individual
rivers (Appendix 3). In some rivers rates of increase have recently slowed and may be
approaching relatively stable levels (Delaney et al. 2008; Fukuda et al in prep). There is no
suggestion that population trends differ among rivers in catchments that are unharvested,
partially harvested, or subject to harvest throughout their area (Appendix 3).

The continuing increase in the Saltwater Crocodile population is also demonstrated by:
•     The biomass of crocodiles in some of these rivers continues to increase, including rivers
      in which increase in numbers is levelling off (Appendix 3). This is consistent with the

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                      11
expectation of the maturing size and age structure of a large, slow-growing species that
      is recovering from the threshold of extinction in the 1970s.
•     The distribution of Saltwater Crocodiles is expanding upstream to recolonise accessible
      freshwater habitats in the Northern Territory (Letnic and Connors 2006).
•     There is an increase in the number of crocodiles that are living in other marginal habitat,
      such as the coasts and seas (Nichols and Letnic 2008).
•     The number of crocodiles removed from the ‘Intensively Managed’ zone in the Darwin
      Harbour has increased in recent years (Section 2.4), indicating that animals in expanding
      populations continue to disperse in search of living areas (Delaney et al. 2008).

                         16.00

                         14.00

                         12.00

                         10.00
        Non-hatchling density

                                8.00

                                6.00
        (sightings/km)

                                4.00

                                2.00

                                0.00
                                   1970   1975   1980   1985    1990       1995   2000    2005       2010

Figure 1: Density of non-hatchling (> 2 ft (= 60 cm) including eyes-only) C. porosus calculated from standardised
spotlight surveys in 12 tidal rivers. Protection was in 1971. Closed symbols are from the Mary River and open
symbols from all other rivers.

2.3           Saltwater crocodile habitat

2.3.1         Protected areas

Formal protected areas in the Northern Territory provide a mosaic of secure areas in which
Saltwater Crocodiles and their riparian and wetland habitats are protected. They also provide
areas where the public can view and learn about crocodiles and their conservation.
Significant areas of potential suitable crocodile habitat were identified by overlaying
hydrography and vegetation layers on the reserve system boundaries in GIS
(Table 1, Figure 2).

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                                        12
Table 1: Protected areas in the NT with significant potential areas of suitable habitat for
             C. porosus
                                                                     Area
Name                                                                        Suitable habitat (km2)
                                                                    (km2)
Kakadu National Park                                              19 068                     2 730
Mary River National Park                                            1 217                      680
Djukbinj National Park                                                553                      330
Garig Gunak Barlu National Park                                     2 063                      310
Shoal Bay Coastal Reserve                                             121                       80
Litchfield National Park                                            1 459                       40
Vernon Islands Conservation Reserve                                    33                       30
Harrison Dam Conservation Area                                         32                       30
Melacca Swamp Conservation Area                                        23                       20
Keep River National Park                                              314                       20

Figure 2 shows the predicted favourable Saltwater Crocodile habitat in the Reserve system.
The commercial harvest of C. porosus is currently permitted within Djukbinj, Harrison Dam and
Melacca Swamp protected areas but is not permitted within Kakadu, Mary River, Shoal Bay,
Litchfield, Vernon Islands and Keep River. Saltwater Crocodiles are actively trapped from
specific sites in Nitmiluk, Flora, Shoal Bay and Litchfield National Parks as a public safety
measure.

Figure 2: Suitable Saltwater Crocodile habitat in the Northern Territory reserve system predicted from
hydrography and vegetation layers in GEODATA TOPO 250K Series 3. Suitable habitat are defined by favourable
water body types (land subject to inundation, marine swamp, saline coastal flat, swamp, perennial lake, perennial
watercourses, and mangrove) mapped to 100 km from the coastline.

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                                       13
No harvesting is permitted in Kakadu National Park so it is of particular significance as a
protected area for crocodiles given the area of suitable crocodile habitat within this Park.

2.3.2     Significant wetlands outside reserves

A major part of the range of C. porosus in the Northern Territory also lies within either
Aboriginal Lands or pastoral lands. Pastoralists, local communities and/or their legal
representatives support the maintenance of Saltwater Crocodile habitat by controlling activities
likely to be detrimental to the long-term conservation of Saltwater Crocodiles. These protocols
and restrictions offer significant protection for wetland areas.

2.4       Problem saltwater crocodiles

One of the most practical and effective responses to improve public safety is to remove
crocodiles in areas of high risk for people. Provision has been made for problem crocodile
removal in previous Management Programs and crocodiles are removed from areas where
they may cause harm to people and their property.

Problem crocodiles are defined broadly as those individuals where one or more of the
following applies:

      •   The crocodile has attacked or is about to attack a person or persons;
      •   The crocodile is behaving aggressively towards a person or persons;
      •   The location of the crocodile makes it a threat or potential threat to human safety or
          wellbeing; or
      •   The activity of the crocodile is affecting the productivity of industry or commercial
          enterprises.

The program allows for problem crocodiles to be killed and used directly for skin and meat
production or captured and used as stock in crocodile farms. Because released crocodiles tend
to return quite rapidly to sites of capture (Walsh and Whitehead 1993) and transport and
handling is stressful and costly, problem crocodiles are not relocated.

The number of animals that have been captured each year under the problem crocodile
program has varied over time (Table 2). This variation is likely to reflect both the increase in the
general crocodile population and fluctuations in crocodile activity between years owing to
climatic variability (Nichols and Letnic 2008). These figures include crocodiles captured from
Darwin Harbour (including Shoal Bay and some tributaries), the Darwin rural area, as well as
some from Katherine and other populated or recreation areas.

Table 2: The number of problem C. porosus removed by Parks and Wildlife staff each
financial year between 1999 and 2008.

            Year                  Problem Crocodiles                         Year      Problem Crocodiles
          1998/1999                         112                            2003/2004          222
          1999/2000                         152                            2004/2005          224
          2000/2001                         182                            2005/2006          236
          2001/2002                         147                            2006/2007          247
          2002/2003                         180                            2007/2008          204

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                                14
2.5      History of use

2.5.1    Indigenous harvest and use
Crocodile meat and eggs are thought to have been used as a food source by Aboriginal
people for up to 40,000 years (McBryde 1979, Flood 1983). The value of eggs to Indigenous
communities lay in the protein they provided to people. In the initial phases of the Northern
Territory program in the 1970s nests were “bought” from landowners for 12 dozen chicken
eggs to compensate for the lost nutritional value (G. Webb pers. comm.).

Section 122 of the TPWC Act maintains the right for customary harvest (other than for the
purpose of sale) of crocodiles and their eggs by Aboriginal people. The number of eggs and
non-hatchling crocodiles traditionally harvested annually in 1990s was estimated to be
around 2,000 individuals (PWCNT 1998). Based on surveys conducted in central Arnhem
Land between 2003-4, the subsistence use of crocodiles in areas where they are relatively
abundant is negligible (A Griffiths (NRETAS), G Wightman (NRETAS) and J Altman (ANU),
pers. comm.). This outcome is similar to surveys conducted in 1980 at the same location
(Altman 1987). The declining subsistence use of crocodiles is likely to be an interplay
between retaining crocodiles because of their commercial value and a shift to preferred meat
sources such as buffalo, pig and wallaby. No dedicated monitoring is required for
subsistence use of crocodiles.

2.5.2    Commercial harvesting and use
Saltwater Crocodiles were commercially hunted in the Northern Territory before they were
protected in 1971. Experimental egg harvests commenced in 1983 for C. porosus and
ranching operations with CITES approval commenced in 1987. Initial management programs
for crocodiles (C. porosus and C. johnstoni) in the Northern Territory included harvest of
eggs, hatchlings, juveniles and adults from the wild to rear in captivity for production. The
1998 management program (PWCNT 1998) also allowed non-hatchlings to enter trade
directly after harvesting, without the need to spend time in a farm. However, the poor quality
of skins from wild animals means this source is rarely used. Numbers harvested increased
from 17 individuals in 1997 to 158 individuals in 2001 but subsequently reduced to 65
individuals in 2007. This does not include problem crocodiles removed by NRETAS. The
harvest of eggs is a critical component of the Northern Territory crocodile industry. Since
farming started in the early 1980s, the total number of eggs collected has increased from 135
in 1984 to a maximum of 40,702 in 2006-07.

3.       Threats and impacts
Existing patterns of land use (chiefly pastoral, reserves and Indigenous lands) are generally
consistent with retaining large wetland areas and their dependent crocodile populations.
Groombridge (1987) and Jenkins (1987) have detailed potential threats to crocodile
populations worldwide. As with all crocodilian species, most threats (direct and indirect)
impacting C. porosus are anthropogenic in origin. Within the life of this program there are no
perceived or likely threats to the conservation status of C. porosus in the Northern Territory and
all predictions indicate that the species will continue to be abundant. The impact of climate
change through changes in sea levels, rainfall patterns and probable vegetation changes is an
unquantified and largely unknown impact on the Saltwater Crocodile. The public demands for
more intense crocodile management in areas close to human habitation will result in the

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                     15
localised removal of increased numbers of animals. However, real or perceived changes to
public attitudes and any subsequent reduced tolerance of crocodiles will not impact on the
broad-scale maintenance of a viable Northern Territory-wide population of Saltwater
Crocodiles.

3.1      Natural predators
The only significant predator of adult crocodiles apart from humans is other crocodiles with
larger Saltwater Crocodiles eating small animals of both species. There are predators of young
hatchlings such as fish (e.g. barramundi) and birds (e.g. Black-necked Stork) and other species
such as Goannas can be predators of eggs. Saltwater Crocodiles are thought to be little
affected by Cane Toad (Rhinella marina, formerly Bufo marinus) poisoning (van Dam et al.
2002; Letnic 2008), possibly because the species is continuously distributed from Australia to
south-east Asia where other related toad species are also found.

3.2      Drought, flood and climate change
Drought can have a significant but not long-lasting impact on C. porosus populations unless
coupled with other factors. Heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding, particularly associated with
cyclones can cause localised egg and juvenile mortality (Webb and Smith 1987).

One of the major effects of climate change is an anticipated rise in sea level with
conservative estimates (Hennessy et al. 2004, 2007) anticipating an increase in sea level of
50 centimetres by 2100 and a corresponding loss of coastal floodplain systems and wetland
habitat. These calculations do not take into account other anticipated and compounding
changes such as further saltwater intrusion or changes in hydrology and in weed and feral
animal distributions and increased temperature. As temperature determines the sex of
hatchlings, long-term temperature changes could also effect the population structure. The
predictions of more frequent and intense dry season wildfires and severe storm events may
have negative impacts on nesting vegetation, food sources and survivorship rates. However,
changes may also create opportunities for crocodiles to expand their distribution. The
possible impacts of climate change remain in the realm of prediction and modeling and over
a time frame much longer than the life of this Management Program. As such they cannot be
mitigated within this program but monitoring should be capable of detecting significant
population changes through whatever cause.

3.3      Habitat loss and modification
The habitats of C. porosus in the Northern Territory are generally not threatened by
development although current and proposed clearing in the Daly and Katherine regions may
have indirect long-term impacts. There is anecdotal evidence that Saltwater Crocodiles are
affected by the invasion of freshwater wetlands by introduced plants such as Mimosa pigra
including through reducing the availability of nesting habitat. Anecdotal reports indicate that the
removal of Mimosa is likely to increase Magpie Geese and crocodile nesting. Since the 1970s,
disturbance of floodplain habitats by feral buffalo was greatly reduced following eradication
campaigns with a resultant improvement in nesting habitat. There are increasing numbers of
buffalo and pig which will cause concern as these negatively impact on nesting vegetation. The
increasing value of crocodile eggs is encouraging improved control of M. pigra, feral herbivores
and fire by landowners to favour crocodile nesting habitat (RMCG 2008).

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                      16
3.4      Entanglement in fishing nets
Entanglement in fishing nets is known to cause crocodile deaths in Australia. Losses of C.
porosus due to accidental capture and drowning in barramundi fishing nets were
documented and assessed in the early 1980s (Webb et al. 1984). Since these surveys
commercial fishing has been banned within a number of river systems that are important
nesting habitats for C. porosus, such as the Mary, Roper and Alligator Rivers. Fishermen are
not permitted to use wild crocodiles that drown in their nets. Recent internal RDPIFR reports
show that crocodile mortality due to drowning in fishing nets during 2007 and 2008 was less
than 30 individuals.

3.5      Disease
There appear to be no significant diseases of wild crocodiles that present a major threat to
the wild population. Intensive animal husbandry of any species can create conditions which
lead to high mortality due to disease and this is true for crocodiles. There were significant
hatchling losses in some farms due to a disease outbreak in 2006.

3.6     Harvesting – general
Over the 25 years of harvesting in the Northern Territory it is clear that the harvest has been
managed to deliver the primary objectives of sustainable, viable crocodile populations
(Appendix 3). The harvest has not been a threat to the species.

3.6.1    Harvesting – genetic
The harvest of crocodiles and crocodile eggs is widely dispersed and unlikely to have an
impact on the genetic integrity of the population.

3.6.2    Harvesting - impacts on other species, habitats and ecosystems
Most eggs are collected by helicopter, which has no impact on soil erosion, water bodies,
watercourses, wetlands or drainage systems. The very small numbers of eggs and non-
hatchling crocodiles taken, mostly by boat, mean that these operations also do not
significantly adversely impact the habitat.

There is no evidence or expectation that the commercial harvest is likely to have any impacts
on threatened species or ecological communities of conservation significance or that it will
cause disturbance or displacement to native fauna. Similarly there is no evidence as yet that
commercial harvest helps introduce or disperse invasive weeds although there is a possibility
that the floats of helicopters could be a vector for aquatic weeds such as Salvinia or
Eichhornia. It is becoming apparent that landholders are increasingly managing land to
favour crocodile nesting habitat which means efforts to reduce mimosa, pigs and buffalo, and
to manage fire will favour establishing nesting vegetation. Large crocodiles take introduced
herbivores such as buffalo, cattle and pigs but the overall impact on these feral populations is
probably negligible.

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                        17
4.       Management practices and performance
         measures
To achieve the aims and objectives of this management program, NRETAS in conjunction with
RDPIFR implements a range of management practices to control the harvest, farming and
trade of Saltwater Crocodiles in accord with the TPWC Act and the EPBC Act. Performance
indicators are provided for each management practice. The milestones and performance
measures for the life of this program are summarised in Appendix 4.

Objective 1 - To facilitate the sustainable use of Saltwater
             Crocodiles

4.1      Commercial harvest and use

Restrictions on live animal harvesting
The Northern Territory Government will seek to maintain the presence of a visible crocodile
population and large iconic (generally ≥ 4.5 m) individuals through the creation of zones where
harvesting of life cycle stages other than eggs is restricted. Harvesting will be prohibited or
restricted in some areas or circumstances if necessary to maintain local or regional populations
or to maintain non-use benefits from the species. Large individuals can be removed wherever
there is a public safety or livestock concern. In general, harvesting of juvenile and adult
crocodiles will not normally be permitted:
1.    In waterways where the watercourse forms the boundary between two or more properties.
2.    In catchments that are heavily used by the tourism and fishing industry e.g. the Mary River
      catchment downstream of the Arnhem Highway, the Adelaide River catchment
      downstream of the Marrakai Crossing, the East Alligator River, and the Daly River
      catchment west of Oolloo Crossing. Where low level harvest is permitted such as for
      skins, farms or for safari hunting, it will be strongly regulated to ensure that tourism
      interests are not damaged.
3.    From sites where crocodiles are particularly significant to local Indigenous people.

Performance Indicator
Ensure all harvest permits minimise the possible negative impact on, or conflict with, tourism,
social or cultural interests.

Harvest ceiling
The harvest ceilings covering both eggs and animals that have developed through previous
management programs were based on an adaptive management approach through
implementation of a conservative harvest, monitoring the impact of that harvest and
subsequent adjustment of the harvest. The harvest ceilings were set well above what was
anticipated to be collected and well within what was considered sustainable.

The total number of C. porosus that can be taken commercially within the Northern Territory
in a financial year, or for eggs during a nesting season, within this program is shown in Table
3. There is no requirement for the Northern Territory Government to allow the full harvest
ceiling to be taken in any year.

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                     18
Table 3: Annual ceiling for the harvesting of crocodiles and their eggs from the wild. Numbers
         are set for the financial year to include the nesting season. The egg ceiling is based
         on live eggs.

Stock                      2009/2010            2010/2011            2011/20121     2012/2013          2013/2014
Eggs                          50,000               50,000                60,000        60,000             70,000
Hatchlings                       500                  500                   500           500                500
Juveniles                        400                  400                   400           400                400
Adults                           500                  500                   500           500                500

1
    The egg ceiling shown in 2011, 2012, and 2013 is an indicative increment based on appropriate monitoring
results and sustainability considerations.

Egg Harvest
The use of egg numbers as the basic measurement of the egg harvest has remained
unchanged and will continue in this program. The harvest ceiling permits and egg allocation
will be based on ‘live’ eggs (see definitions). This change addresses concerns from both
industry and regulators. A practical compliance measure at an early stage in the
harvest/farming process is now the measure of eggs placed into the incubator. Royalties to
the Northern Territory Government will continue to be based on ‘viable’ eggs.

The natural mortality of eggs in the wild is usually high but varies depending on the weather
(Webb and Manolis 1993). It has been suggested that the mortality of crocodiles at each stage
of their life cycle (hatchling, juvenile and adult) is partially dependent on the density of larger
crocodiles that prey upon and competitively exclude smaller crocodiles (Webb and Manolis
1993). Because a very low percentage of eggs/hatchlings would normally survive to later age
classes in the wild (Webb and Manolis 1993) and the current harvest represents a very small
proportion of the total number of eggs laid each year (NRETAS internal data), it is unlikely that
the harvesting of crocodile eggs at current rates will substantially affect the size or age
structure of the population (Appendix 3). Continued monitoring will insure that the proposed
level of egg harvesting remains sustainable.

Currently 10 of the 12 monitored rivers are harvested. All monitored rivers have shown an
increase in both abundance and biomass (Appendix 3). This is consistent with the continued
increase in the overall population in the Northern Territory (Figure 1) and it supports
continuing with an adaptively managed increase in the egg harvest.

Recent levels of egg harvest have been approaching 40,000 eggs. It is proposed to
commence this program with an increased ceiling of 50,000 live eggs for at least the first two
years of the program.

Non-hatchling harvest
The increased focus by industry on harvesting eggs has been paralleled by a decreasing
take of non-hatchlings. The recent commercial take of adults has been less than 100 animals
each year between 2003 and 2009 which demonstrates the previous quota of 500 is in
excess of what is needed. Quotas firstly need to be demonstrably sustainable but they
should also be reflective of the needs of public safety and industry. Accordingly the ceiling of

Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory                                       19
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