Two drier-than-average wet seasons in the Top End have had an impact on saltwater crocodile movements with catch numbers for the year well below average


A saltwater crocodile on a riverbank near Darwin.

Two drier-than-average wet seasons in the Top End have had an impact on saltwater crocodile movements, with catch numbers for the year well below average.

Key points:

  • 229 crocodiles were captured this year, down from more than 300 in 2018
  • NT rangers have been finding the crocodiles in backyards and rural areas this year
  • Two unusually dry wet seasons may be forcing the animals to stay within a smaller area

NT Parks and Wildlife ranger Tom Nichols has been catching crocodiles for four decades.

He said this year had been unusually quiet.

“We’ve had two bad wet seasons in a row so the crocs just don’t seem to be moving around,” he said.

Just 229 crocodiles were captured this year, which is well below 2018, when the equivalent of one crocodile per day was caught.

It comes after researchers at Charles Darwin University launched a study looking into the results of saltwater crocodile population recovery since they were declared a protected species in 1971.

A man looks off into the distance, he is on a boat and there are mangroves in the background.

Tom Nichols has spent four decades searching for saltwater crocodiles in the Top End.(ABC News: Laetitia Lemke)

The NT’s crocodile populations were massively depleted by the 1970s after decades of legalised hunting for meat, skulls and skins nearly eradicated the animals.

At the nadir it was believed there were only 3,000 crocodiles in the NT before they were declared a protected species.

a male crocodile lies in the sun.

The largest crocodile captured this year was more than four metres long.(ABC Rural: Daniel Fitzgerald)

It’s estimated there are more than 100,000 crocodiles living in the Territory today.

And while the overall number of crocodiles caught this year is low, it does not mean that the population has fallen.

Mr Nichols said he and fellow rangers were still seeing substantial numbers of crocodiles in heavily populated areas around Darwin, including Palmerston and Berry Creek.

Three crocodiles with tape over their heads on a boat

Some of the saltwater crocodiles captured by rangers.(ABC News)

Most of the animals were taken from Darwin Harbour, and Hope Inlet — near Shoal Bay — recorded the highest number of crocodile captures by area at 41 this year.

Mr Nichols said this meant the majority of captures were happening in populated spaces.

The biggest crocodile captured was 4.2 metres.

A man and a woman pull in a crocodile on to a boat

Ranger Tom Nichols captures a saltwater crocodile with a colleague in 2016. He is part of an effort to accurately measure crocodile numbers in the Territory.(ABC News: Laetitia Lemke)

Dry conditions could mean crocs stay in place

Ranger Nichols said he and his colleagues believed poor rains over recent years had led to creeks and river systems drying out.

Those waterways usually help saltwater crocodiles move around the Top End, but with many reduced or gone, crocodiles have been staying put.

“The chances of a saltwater croc getting into these rural areas is now very high and a lot of kids out here on quad bikes, buggies and swimming in the water, they have just got to be crocwise,” Mr Nichols said.

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