11 June 2007
TERRI Irwin says a push to allow Queensland's crocodile farms to harvest eggs from the wild spells disaster for the environment.
The wife of the late conservationist Steve Irwin has come out fighting against a possible change in the management plan for Queensland's saltwater crocodiles, which could allow crocodile farm owners to collect eggs to hatch, raise and later cull in captivity.
"This absolutely cannot be allowed to happen," Mrs Irwin said.
"It's splitting hairs to say it's not really harvesting crocs because it's only an egg, it's not a living animal yet.
"You can't just go and collect animals from the wild, it's totally illegal. I can't go out and say, 'Oh golly, we need more crocs at our zoo, I'll just go get one' – but they can take eggs?
"It's a very dangerous distinction to make."
The State Government is reviewing its Estuarine Crocodile Conservation Plan, which looks at the management of saltwater crocodiles in Queensland for the next 10 years.
Part of the consultation draft by the Environmental Protection Agency says the commercial harvesting of eggs will be considered only if scientific evidence shows it will be ecologically sustainable, and will not limit the recovery of Queensland's estuarine crocodiles.
"Our saltwater crocs' current conservation status is listed as vulnerable," Mrs Irwin said.
"If they're vulnerable now, imagine what's going to happen if their eggs are depleted.
"As it is, only about one in 200 eggs survives to maturity. A female salty lays between 50 to 60 eggs and then they are lost to flooding, to fire, to natural predation and the obvious argument is that if you deplete the number of eggs, the odds stacked against the ones that are left are even longer.
"But Queensland crocodile farmers say egg harvesting does not reduce population numbers and is being successfully carried out in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
John Lever, owner of the Koorana Salt Water Crocodile Farm on the Capricorn Coast in central Queensland, says crocodile farmers want to see double the production rates.
"I'm a crocodile conservationist and farmer and I believe firmly that to protect the croc you have to make money from it," he said.
"This is a $10 million industry waiting to happen – if you commercialise the crocodiles, the ones resident on people's properties, for example, they stop being these dreadful creatures that steal their sheep and become very valuable to them.
"In the Northern Territory and Western Australia where harvesting is already being done legally, the numbers of juvenile male crocs has actually grown each year.
"But Mrs Irwin says that's comparing apples to oranges.
"It's a completely different situation here, the Top End is a great habitat for crocs, very conducive to them, but from the Gulf, round the tip down to Rockhampton, our crocs have all sorts of problems – flooding, cattle grazing, salinity.
"Besides, how many times do we have to learn the lesson not to mess with nature?
"Crocs are apex predators and as with all apex predators they are critical to the environment: if you lose the crocs, you'll lose the barramundi, you'll lose the crabs – a catfish can eat 30,000 barramundi fingerlings, and who do you think eats the catfish? Crocs."
Mrs Irwin said she was speaking out because the issue is one she feels very strongly about, and one her late husband would have taken on with both hands.