The Northern Territory’s plan to support crocodile hunting is as nonsensical as it is barbaric, says Barry Cohen
There are a number of situations where killing animals is acceptable. Those who eat beef, pork, lamb, chicken, fish and other forms of edible flesh could not but agree. To that, one can add self-preservation. Animals that threaten life and limb are legitimate targets. Such actions should be rare and not revenge attacks on a species whose domain has been invaded by humans.
Then there are the species that have bred in such numbers that they have become a major threat to the livelihood of those who produce our food: foxes, wild cats and dogs, rabbits, goats, wild pigs and horses are among those that come to mind.
This group also includes three of the 51 species of macropods: red, eastern and western grey kangaroos. Due to the increased number of dams, pastures and crops since the arrival of Europeans, these species have exploded in number and often hit plague proportions. Recent surveys indicate that in four states (NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia) there are an estimated 23 million. Had we not culled between two and seven million per year for the past century, Australia would have been overrun by kangaroos.
The list should also include animals that are diseased or injured by fire, flood or famine. One reason that should not be tolerated, however, is the killing of animals for ‘sport’.
‘Sport’ is an outrageous misnomer here. It implies an evenly matched contest in which both sides have a chance of winning. That doesn’t happen in hunting. Animal victories are rare, but when it happens it is an occasion for celebration.
It was with a mixture of horror and disgust that I read that the Northern Territory had released ‘a draft crocodile management plan that supports safari hunting and that outlines how wild crocodiles should be stalked and killed’.
How thoughtful were the NT officials who drafted the report can be ascertained by the following quote in the Australian: ‘All crocodiles taken would be a minimum size of 3.5 metres and hunters would use centre-fire rifles of not more than .30 calibre. A telescopic site must be fitted and the shot, which must be to the head, must be taken at a distance of no more than 50 metres from the animal.
‘The animal could not be shot while it was in the water and the entire body of a crocodile must be above the water before a shot is discharged.
‘Further, a guide must back up the safari hunter with arms to shoulder to finish off the crocodile in the event the hunter only wounds it.’
NT environment minister Alison Anderson added that this was not to control crocodile numbers but to ‘foster indigenous employment and enterprise’.
The minister must have taken leave of her senses. The total number of crocodiles that may be killed by these ‘sportsmen’ will be 25 over five years. That should solve the Aboriginal unemployment problem.
At this point, a little history of crocodile hunting is required. It was a significant industry in northern Australia when, in 1972, Professor Harry Messel alerted the then federal minister for customs and excise, Senator Lionel Murphy, to the fact that excessive crocodile hunting had led to a dramatic drop in numbers to around 3,000 in the NT, putting the very survival of the species at risk.
Murphy banned the export of crocodile products except from crocodile farms. The Mick Dundees had to seek other employment.
Numbers are now estimated to be in excess of 80,000. That’s a lot of people-eaters, some of which have been active of late. Four people have tragically met their deaths in recent months. The NT government undoubtedly saw this as an opportune time to attract international big game hunters.
The scenario was familiar to me. During my stint as environment minister (1983-87), five people were taken over a period of about 18 months. My interest was heightened when one was taken at Cahill’s Crossing on the East Alligator River in Kakadu National Park, which happened to be in my bailiwick.
A miner from Ranger Uranium, standing up to his waist in water on the spillway fishing, was taken in full view of his family. It‘s hard to imagine a more gruesome or tragic scene.
Shortly afterwards, while inspecting the site with Professor Derek Ovington, head of the federal National Parks and Wildlife Service, I was pleased to see numerous signs warning visitors of the presence of crocodiles. While admiring Derek’s handiwork I was stunned to see a man with two young sons wandering along the mud flats. His idiocy was breathtaking. He felt the lash of Derek’s tongue. It was obvious he had no idea the speed crocodiles can travel on land.
When asked by journalists what I was going to do to avoid such tragedies, I suggested that as warning signs had failed, a fine might be a deterrent. The media had a field day. One cartoon depicted me being swallowed by a croc with a fistful of dollars in my hand.
It was not my most brilliant idea, but it was better than the nonsense now proposed by the NT government.
No one has asked the obvious question: does Australia want ‘big game hunters’? Anyone who kills animals for sport has a few genes missing and a complex about the size of his reproductive organ. They aren’t ‘big’ or ‘game’. If they had any guts, they’d venture into crocodile territory with the same equipment as the original Australians. You could sell tickets for that one.
If it is necessary to cull crocodiles, then let the crocodile farmers and park rangers do the job. In the meantime, let’s keep these ‘sportsmen’ out of Australia.