Steve Irwin would be “horrified” by the idea of trophy-hunting the creatures. The Independent reports
Australia’s feared saltwater crocodiles were almost wiped out by hunting before becoming a protected species in 1971. Since then, the population has ballooned. In the northern city of Darwin, the man-eating crocs have snatched dogs off beaches and have even turned up in backyard swimming pools. Hundreds are fished out of Darwin harbour every year.
With the giant reptiles so abundant – up to 150,000 of them are believed to be roaming the tropical Top End – the federal government is considering a proposal to introduce crocodile safaris. Those in favour, who include Aboriginal landowners, say it would boost tourism and create much-needed jobs in the remote indigenous communities of northern Australia.
However, animal welfare advocates and conservationists – including Bob Irwin, father of the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin – are strongly opposed. Steve, who was famous for his croc-handling skills, would be “horrified” by the idea of trophy-hunting the creatures, according to Bob.
Under the proposal, 50 of the largest crocodiles would be killed by big-game hunters, mostly from overseas, who would pay up to A$20,000 (£13,000) for the privilege. Taxidermy – of the head, or whole beast – would cost extra. Much of the money would flow to Aboriginal people, who own more than 70 per cent of the land and waterways inhabited by crocs in the Northern Territory.
While white entrepreneurs have grown rich by farming crocodiles, “we’ve only been getting a small slice of the pie”, says Jida Gulpilil, director of an Aboriginal corporation in the Arnhem Land region. Mr Gulpilil – whose father, David, a well-known actor, starred in Crocodile Dundee – adds: “This is a great way for us to create jobs in an area where employment opportunities are minimal.”
Saltwater or estuarine crocodiles can grow to up to 20 feet (6.1 metres), weigh more than a ton and, despite their name, are found in rivers and creeks hundreds of miles from the sea. The world’s largest and most aggressive crocodile species, they have barely changed over 65 million years of evolution and kill an average of two people a year.
The government rejected a croc-hunting proposal a few years ago, but has agreed to consider a two-year trial in the light of soaring numbers. The 50 trophy animals would come out of a quota of 500 culled every year, under a management programme aimed at thinning the population and removing “problem animals”. “All we want to do is change the person who pulls the trigger,” says Mr Gulpilil.
RSPCA Australia, however, fears that the crocodiles might not be destroyed humanely. And Mr Irwin, whose son was killed by a stingray’s barb in 2006, warns that safaris could increase the danger to humans. “They’re proposing to take out 50 really big adult alpha males, but these are the ones that control the river system and keep the younger crocs in check,” he says. “If you remove them, those younger crocs, which are still quite large, will start fighting among themselves, like angry teenagers. They’ll be testing their predatory skills, and I’m concerned about what may happen.”
Mick Pitman, a veteran crocodile hunter who stuffs his prey and turns their skins into wallets, wristbands and mobile-phone holders, dismisses those concerns.
He says the big game hunters are “professionals who know how to use guns”. Graham Webb, who runs a crocodile farm outside Darwin, agrees. Those criticising the safaris “live in the city and do their hunting and gathering in supermarkets”, he claims.
Mr Gulpilil says: “It wouldn’t be like the African safaris. This is Australia, and our people are hunters and gatherers. We’ve got a high respect for the crocodile, culturally and spiritually. It’s one of our totems, and it’s connected to our land, our Dreaming [creation story], our beliefs and customs, our ceremonies and songs.”
Currently, Aboriginal landowners are permitted to kill crocodiles on their land, under the management programme, and to sell their skins and eggs. The Environment Minister, Tony Burke, will rule on whether or not the hunting trial can go ahead when a consultation process ends later this month.
Mr Irwin is unconvinced by the job-creation argument. “How many people does it take to kill a crocodile?” he asks. “Two, at the most. Why not encourage tourists to go out on safari with a camera rather than a gun? There’s a lot more financial benefit to be had from live crocodiles.”
- NT hunters push for legalised croc safaris (nzherald.co.nz)
- NT welcomes croc hunting development (bigpondnews.com)
- Territory renews push for safari crocodile hunts (abc.net.au)
- Croc trophy kills ruled out over safety fears (news.com.au)
- Guinness says Philippine croc world’s largest (thehimalayantimes.com)
- Kakadu National Park – Darwin, Australia (travelpod.com)
Montrealer Jessica Magonet was not even born when the first Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro 20 years ago this month.
But next week, when nations meet again for the 20th anniversary of that watershed United Nations conference, Magonet won’t be letting her youth stop her from demanding the world pay attention to her cause.
Magonet, 19, is part of a 14-member youth delegation from across Canada heading to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio + 20, Wednesday to Friday. They will demand that protection of polar regions be among the global commitments that come out of the conference, and that indigenous peoples be involved in development decisions.
Magonet, a law student at McGill University, thinks it’s fitting that young people set part of the agenda at Rio + 20.
“Sustainable development is all about caring about people who are not here yet, so I hope we can represent that symbolically,” she said.
The first Earth Summit brought 172 countries together to create a blueprint for a better world, one with equal rights, less poverty and a healthier environment. Although hopes were high afterward, a recent assessment of progress on 90 environmental goals found that significant progress had been made on only four since 1992.
The world has managed to eliminate production and use of substances that deplete the ozone layer, remove lead from fuel, improve access to clean water and increase research on marine pollution. But the assessment, called the Global Environmental Outlook and released this month, showed that little or no progress has been made on such critical issues as climate change, desertification and drought.
The slow progress since the first Rio conference does not discourage Magonet.
“We have a lot of energy and we are not cynical. We have hope. … This seems to be a very political generation, actually … and with what’s happening at the federal level, people who may have been quiet up until now are becoming more vocal.”
Magonet was referring to Bill C-38 and the sweeping changes it will bring to environmental legislation. She is also concerned that Canada will soon be chairing the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental body responsible for Arctic governance that includes representatives of Canada, Russia, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and the U.S.
“The current federal government does not have a great environmental record … so there is big concern as Canada is taking over as chair.”
Magonet said her delegation wants the world to recognize that the polar regions are threatened by oil drilling, mining, fishing and marine traffic, and that attention must be focused on sustainability now, before it’s too late.
“A lot of these regions are not governed by any laws because nobody goes there, so there is concern there will be a free-for-all, with no limit on the type or number of ships that can pass through there.
“Indigenous people also must be involved in the sustainable development of these regions.”
Magonet became fascinated with the Arctic when she visited Kuujjuaq and sailed up the east coast of Baffin Island with an organization called Students on Ice in 2010. She was inspired by meeting Inuit elders, hearing their concerns and fears about climate change, and learning from biologists and glacier experts about how the region is changing.
“Visiting the Arctic makes climate change so visceral and human, because what’s happening there is so shocking. They are already talking about adaptation; they’ve had to move beyond prevention and try to live with this new environment.”
For more details on Rio + 20 – click on uncsd2012.org
- Rio+20: Indigenous Peoples Denounce Green Economy and REDD+ as Privatization of Nature (climate-connections.org)
- Rio+20: Canada shielding fossil fuel subsidies at Earth Summit (calgaryherald.com)
- Indigenous Message to Rio+20: Leave Everything Beneath Mother Earth (ipsnews.net)
- Greenpeace: “Polluters are in charge at Rio+20″ (rtcc.org)
- Rio+20 Peoples’ Summit: Indigenous peoples speak out against REDD (climate-connections.org)
- Mother Earth Should Not Be “Owned, Privatised and Exploited” : Interview with Tom Goldtooth (climate-connections.org)
- To Fix The Climate, Take Meat Off The Menu: Rio+20 (chimalaya.org)
- Anniversary of Earth Summit struggles to find meaning – CTV.ca (ctv.ca)
- Rio+20 Vision Wall (rtcc.org)