SYDNEY – Australia's Northern Territory may allow the collection of more crocodile eggs and limited safari hunts of the reptiles — but not a large-scale slaughter — following a spate of fatal attacks on humans, its government said Wednesday.
A five-year management proposal released Wednesday would allow up to 50,000 crocodile eggs to be collected, up from the current limit of 35,000, and expand the monitoring and trapping area outside the territory's capital of Darwin.
The program will not allow mass killings of saltwater crocodiles and is not designed to drastically reduce their numbers, territory Environment Minister Alison Anderson said. She stressed that crocodiles were a fact of life in northern Australia and that any management plan would not prevent attacks.
"It is important that people who live in Darwin and its surrounds are aware of the realities of living with crocodiles and the threat they present," Anderson said. "They will kill today, they killed yesterday and they will kill tomorrow."
Many territory residents have demanded a large-scale slaughter of saltwater crocodiles following four fatal attacks outside Darwin in the last seven months, including two in the last month.
Eleven-year-old Briony Goodsell was swimming with her sister and friends in a lagoon in mid-March when she was dragged under the water by a crocodile. Last week a 20-year-old man was taken by a crocodile when he went for a nighttime swim.
The plan also suggests allowing controversial crocodile safaris for paying clients, with quotas on the number of the reptiles that could be killed by tourists or trophy hunters. That part of the proposal must be approved by the federal government, which currently bans crocodile hunting.
The Northern Territory is estimated to have 80,000 saltwater crocodiles, the highest number in Australia. Saltwater crocodiles, the world's largest reptile, grow up to 23 feet long. They are more likely to attack humans than the smaller freshwater crocodiles that also inhabit the area.
Both species were hunted to near extinction but have become plentiful in the tropical north since they became protected by federal law in 1971.
Currently, collected eggs and captured crocodiles are harvested for meat, skin, teeth and skulls. The Northern Territory has exported an average of about 6,000 saltwater crocodile skins around Australia and the world each year for the last six years.
The draft plan is open for public comment until the end of May.