Aussie police hunt killer of monster crocodile

A crocodile measuring 17 feet in length – big enough to swallow a human being whole – was discovered dead in the Fitzroy River in Queensland, Australia, with a bullet in its head.  Pictures of the beast have been seen all over the world, sparking a global wave of nightmares.

The crocodile carcass (pictures from Queensland Police).

Imagine those jaws opened wide.

But crocodiles in Queensland, like alligators in Florida, are protected by law, so police have launched a manhunt for the potential man-eater's killer.

A TIP off has launched a police man hunt for the gunshot killer of a 5.2m king crocodile in the Fitzroy River.

An autopsy on the slaughtered reptile is under way after he was discovered with an apparent bullet wound to the head at an Alligator Creek location near Etna Creek yesterday afternoon, The Rockhampton Morning Bulletin reports.

Rockhampton Criminal Investigation Bureau officer-in-charge Detective Senior Sergeant Luke Peachey said the EHP contacted police who are now working with the environmental agency to track down who's responsible.

The penalties for killing a protected croc are not trivial, and there is every indication that police resources will not be spared.  In Australia, the states handle police, so a large constabulary is available in the state of Queensland (population: 4.7 million) to track down the monster-layer:

The carcass has been removed as evidence and will be forensically examined by Queensland Police.

It is an offence under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 to take an estuarine crocodile without authority and there are greater penalties in place for the unlawful take of an 'iconic' crocodile, defined as 5 metres or greater in length.

The maximum penalty for the unlawful take of an 'iconic' crocodile is $28,383.75.

The danger this animal posed to humans is not purely theoretical.  Our Queensland correspondent, John McMahon, writes:

This river, the Fitzroy, does not lie in a remote part of Queensland but runs through the middle of Rockhampton, a regional city on the Eastern central coast of Queensland. It is the beef capital of Australia.

Just a couple of years ago a horse trainer took his horse down to the river for the horse to cool off. As he did so he walked past Croc warning signs. Sure enough, the horse was taken. He had been doing this for years all the time ignoring the warning signs. Eventually his luck ran out.

I do understand the need to protect endangered species.  But, as Hannah Osborne wrote in Newsweek:

Earlier this year, a report from the the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre, Royal Darwin Hospital and the Menzies School of Health Research showed crocodile related deaths has risen in the Northern Territory since hunting was banned in 1971, the Guardian reported.

Between 2005 and 2014, 14 people were killed by crocodiles, compared with just 10 deaths in the 33 years prior.

If we (unrealistically) assume that other factors were constant over both periods, crocodile fatalities increased from one human casualty every 3.3 years to crocs were killing 2.33 humans per year following their protection.  But in fact, the danger from crocs may well be increasing right now for a reason Osborne explains:

The death of a huge crocodile whose body was found in a river in Queensland, Australia, has sparked fears of a fight for dominance among the young, aggressive males living in the area. ...

The death of what is thought to be the dominant male could spark a power struggle between other males, authorities warned.

Joyce said people living in the area should be extra careful over the coming days and weeks as the death of this large crocodile may result in a power struggle between [sic] younger males, which could make them more aggressive.

"People need to clearly understand that the death of this animal has changed the balance of the crocodile population in the Fitzroy and we can expect increased aggressive activity by younger male crocodiles," he told the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin. ...

"That's because they will be competing to take the dominant position which is now vacant. I cannot stress strongly enough the need for all river users to be aware of the risks and to be Crocwise."

He added the power struggle could be over in 24 hours, or it could take months.

I cannot imagine living in a city of 80,000 with a river running through it that is home to aggressive, lethal crocodiles in their normal state, much less heightened aggressiveness.  But I am phobic about creatures that can and do devour humans and other large mammals, not to mention Fluffy and Spot or the occasional careless child.

I am not advocating repeal of protections for gators, crocs, or even krakens, if they exist.  But I would like a calculation of the human cost to be considered.

Update from John McMahon:

Crocodiles are protected in Australia with some now saying that their numbers are far too huge for the safety of people. Crocodiles extend all the way across the Northern half of the continent along the coastal areas and along up the rivers. With this population pressure the crocodiles are now returning to areas where they once were before the advent of colonization. Thus they have become a very serious danger to people.
Off tourist areas such as Palm Cove North of Cairns crocs have been seen swimming near the tourists. In 2016 two women tourist staying at the Cape Tribulation Lodge when for a midnight swim at nearby Thornton Beach. One was taken by a crocodile. A few days later rangers captured and killed a 4.3m crocodile and its stomach contents disclosed recent human remains which were those of this woman.
On their way down to the beach these two women walked past a sign warning about swimming at the beach.
There are those who are calling for a cull of these animals by way of hunter-tourist safaris under the auspices of aboriginal rangers who will be the guides on these proposed safaris.
All moneys earned would be income for the local aboriginal community. It is a good idea but the governments are baulking at the idea for fear of the Greens and other groups such as PETA.