When researchers visited the Kimberley in northwest Australia for the first time since 1986, they found that crocodile numbers have increased dramatically.
Hunting of estuarine crocodiles, also known as saltwater crocodiles, was banned in the 1970s, and their numbers have recovered rapidly since then.
Along one stretch of Roe River alone, researchers from the Department of Parks and Wildlife found 350 crocodiles. Only 97 animals were found in the same area 38 years ago.
Senior scientist Andy Halford explained that the results of the survey were important, as it’s likely that increasing densities in natural areas will result in more crocodiles moving closer to populated areas.
Crocodiles are ambush predators. They lie submerged near the water’s edge, waiting for other animals to come to the river bank for a drink. Their powerful muscles allow them to lunge suddenly out of the water to snatch prey, and they can even outrun humans on land over short distances.
However, the Department of Parks and Wildlife are not currently considering culling as an option.
“The reality of a cull is that even if you remove an animal from a certain location there’s no guarantee another one would not come back into that location,” said District Manager Luke Bentley.
Surveying crocodiles is a risky pastime, as Dr. Halford explains:
Night time is the best time to see the crocodiles, because they have this unusual thing with their eyes, where you get a really strong gleam in the torchlight.
You’re dealing with animals that can eat you, that want to eat you, so there’s a whole lot at play here. You’re also operating around the clock, so fatigue is a big issue.
The survey team used long biopsy poles to avoid having to get too close to the sizeable reptiles, which can grow up to six meters long, while collecting skin samples for genetic research.
“Most of them don’t even really know we’ve done it, some give us a little growl but that’s all.”
All photos via ABC News