Aussie fisherman's confronting crocodile photo reflects hundred-thousand dollar issue

In Australia, crocodiles are growing in population and physical size. One Aussie fisherman explains what he thinks is behind the trend.

A crocodile is seen dragging a dead cow calf through waters in the Kimberley.
An Australian fisherman says better management from cattle stations in parts of the Kimberley in WA's far north could protect their livestock from hungry crocodiles. Source: Rodney Fischer

An Australian fisherman is calling for "proper management" from cattle stations in parts of the country's far north to better protect their livestock, as hungry crocodiles in the area hunt domestic cows as prey.

Western Australian man Rodney Fischer lives in the remote region of East Kimberley in the very top of the state. He works for a not-for-profit community development organisation that helps locals find meaningful employment, but in his downtime, the avid photographer also gets close and personal with some of Australia's rarest — and gnarliest — creatures.

He shared a "magnificent" image this week showing a large saltwater crocodile drag a calf through waters in the area, saying he "had the pleasure of catching up with 'Mr Jones' on the weekend".

"This pic shows his immense size as he proudly showed off his recent kill," Fischer said. Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, the local said the image represented the fact cattle stations in the region are losing big bucks in livestock as a result of wandering cows being snatched by hungry crocodiles.

A cow carcass is seem bloated and upside by a riverbank in the Kimberley in WA.
Fischer said he comes across cow carcasses at the water's edge, having been killed by crocodiles, who often wait a couple of days to devour the animals. Source: Rodney Fischer

"They lose about three cows a day or 1,000 per year, which is worth about $800,000," Fischer told Yahoo.

Though that figure may seem steep, Australia is in fact actually home to some of the world's most expensive cattle. Pregnant cows that were three years ago worth $1,200 now have a $2,000 price tag, while heifers have gone from $350 a head to $800 in the same time span, according to reports.

"A fence would cost half that and last a few years, so yeah, property management from stations would be a win-win for all," Fischer suggested.

He said wild crocs killing domestic cows is all too prevalent in the area, personally having spotted cow carcasses on riverbanks and along the water's edge. Fischer said the "endless supply" of cattle in the area is in part responsible for the animals' growing size.

A large saltwater crocodile is seen semi-submerged in the water.
Rodney Fischer says crocs feeding on cattle might be behind their growing size. Source: Getty

In Australia, crocodile numbers are on the rise across the board after populations sunk to dire levels back in the '70s. The gradual increase has now prompted authorities to warn locals and visitors to be careful, especially since the average size of the predators has also grown.

The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) recently conducted a survey across East Kimberley rivers — including the King, Ord and Berkerly rivers — to examine and "track the recovery of crocodiles" after historical overharvesting — but the results aren't too surprising says Fischer.

Fischer, who frequents the Ord River near Wyndham, suggests the saltwater crocodile population in Australia — found in NT, WA and Far North Queensland — is "just getting back to a healthy amount" after becoming protected in the 70s. Before that, crocodiles were regularly killed — and their eggs taken — en masse for their skin.

While female crocs tend to be smaller, usually a maximum length of about three or three-and-a-half metres, the average male is about 4.2 metres, Fischer said. But he's often seeing them much, much bigger — and there's reason for that too.

It's these crocs Fischer claims people are seeing regularly. "But it depends on the food supply too," he said. "Here on the Ord River, there's an endless supply of cattle. So the crocodiles are getting big quicker at a younger age."

Meanwhile, farmers in other parts of the country say the issue of crocodiles consuming cattle is costing them hundreds of thousands. The Mary River in the Northern Territory is one of the most heavily crocodile-populated waterways in the world.

Adrian Phillips, manager at the Annaburroo Station in the Northern Territory, 100 kilometres east of Darwin, says he loses up to two per cent of his cattle herd, or more than 100 head per year to the hungry reptiles.

"I've got a hand-held wand and I've run it over a few of the crocs that we've caught, and when it reads a tag it beeps," Phillips told the ABC, adding that the issue cost him $100,000 in 2017.

"[This time] it just kept beeping — beep beep, beep beep, beep beep — there's three tags. That's three tags from a right ear in that one croc so how many cattle has he fed on [where] he hasn't eaten a right ear? He had consumed $5,000 worth of beef that I know of."

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