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 5.2 meter-long (17ft) male, which had been shot in the head, was discovered by a member of the public, who had spotted its body floating in the Fitzroy River. Local farmer John Leaver told the Australian Associated Press it had been around 20 to 30 years since such a large crocodile had been found in Queensland.
“There may have been some others shot in the wild that we don’t know about, but from my recollection, over the past three decades this would be the largest,” he said, adding the largest he had ever caught measured 4.95 meters (16.2ft).
Leaver said that from the damage done to the crocodile’s skull, the bullet probably came from a fairly large calibre rifle. “I would say that someone felt very threatened,” he said.
Under Queensland law, crocodiles are protected and it is illegal to interfere with them, including removing eggs and possessing of crocodile parts, such as skin, without a licence from the Environment Heritage Protection (EHP) office. These laws were brought in across Australia after decades of hunting had pushed them to the brink of extinction.
The crocodile carcass was taken to a nearby farm where an autopsy will be carried out before its burial. Michael Joyce, southern wildlife operations director at Queensland’s EHP, said it is estimated the crocodile was between 80 and 100 years old.
“It is on the larger end of the scale, there’s no doubt about that. There are not a lot of crocodiles over five metres,” he said.
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 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.
Crocwise is a government initiative aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of crocodiles in parts of Australia where they are prevalent.
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.