Fears the NT's crocodile warnings need more teeth

Ranger Erin Britton sits astride a 3.9 metre crocodile trapped near Katherine as local school students have a close inspection, hoping it is the only one they ever have.
Ranger Erin Britton sits astride a 3.9 metre crocodile trapped near Katherine as local school students have a close inspection, hoping it is the only one they ever have.

The NT Government wants to make sure people living in remote communities are sufficiently warned to beware of crocodiles.

More Aboriginal people are fatally attacked by crocs than non-Aboriginal people.

The government wants to make sure its Be Crocwise message is "culturally appropriate" so it is being understood.

In Katherine, the Crocwise warning is hammered home by parks and wildlife rangers who catch crocodiles near the town and then invite the media, and others to view the bound beast.

The rangers often take the captured salties on visits to local schools to show students just what is living in Top End waterways.

Many times the crocs are captured in traps within sight of the town itself, trying to stop people still risking their lives trying to beat the build-up heat with an paddle in the evenings.

The government's stated strategy is to "ensure the long-term conservation of the saltwater crocodile and its habitat in the Territory while also keeping the public safe".

Crocodiles are legally protected but there are a lot of them, more than 100,000 in the wild according to a 2019 estimate.

The Territory's Be Crocwise campaign in its current format has been in place since 2009.

Local park rangers John and Chris hammer the Crocwise message home with a 3.3m male saltie caught in the Katherine River in August.

Local park rangers John and Chris hammer the Crocwise message home with a 3.3m male saltie caught in the Katherine River in August.

Some educational material has been translated into key Aboriginal languages and visits to communities and schools have been translated during joint presentations with school or local ranger group wherever possible.

"Analysing attack and near-miss statistics, as well as personal observation by engagement staff when in the field show that although the messages are seemingly understood at the time of delivery, changes to behaviour does not necessarily follow," the government says.

Information from all reported crocodile attacks in the NT since 1979 has been crunched which reveal demographics and behaviours increase the likelihood of crocodile related injury or fatality.

A Katherine visitor given a close up experience of a large saltwater crocodile to avoid local waterways.

A Katherine visitor given a close up experience of a large saltwater crocodile to avoid local waterways.

Findings include:

  • Most attacks occur on people swimming (swimming defined as water you can't stand up in), with hunting and bathing also attracting unwanted croc attention.
  • One third of croc deaths involved alcohol.

A comprehensive analysis of Be Crocwise Program materials has identified a potential gap in delivering culturally appropriate awareness and public safety messages to aboriginal people in the Northern Territory

A total of 178 saltwater crocodiles have been caught across the Top End this year - at least four of them in the Katherine River.

The successful Be Crocwise program seeks to educate the public and by trapping them, reduce the risk of crocodile attacks in the Top End.

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"Analysis of Be Crocwise materials identified that awareness and public safety messages could be strengthened in remote Aboriginal communities by incorporating culturally appropriate materials, tailoring content specifically to Aboriginal people in the NT," the government says in plans to update the program.

The Department of Tourism, Sport and Culture is seeking a consultant to interview people living in remote areas located within saltwater crocodile habitat.

Location of crocs caught this year in the Katherine region. Source: NT Government.

Location of crocs caught this year in the Katherine region. Source: NT Government.

"These people will be considered by their community to have close cultural links to saltwater crocodiles, or have responsibility for the management of saltwater crocodiles within the community or an Indigenous Protected Area."

"The findings of these interviews will be used to construct a report that allows DTSC community engagement staff to better understand knowledge gaps in remote areas and recommend culturally appropriate inclusions to Be Crocwise messages and educational materials.

"By collaborating with and seeking specific input from members of remote aboriginal communities, this project will lead to a better understanding of existing knowledge levels of the dangers posed by saltwater crocodiles and identify current human behaviours that result in increased levels of risk in saltwater crocodile habitat.

"The final report will allow community engagement staff to better understand any on-ground knowledge gaps, and, recommend culturally appropriate inclusions to the Be Crocwise messages and educational materials to further positive behaviour change in remote Aboriginal communities," tender documents state.

This story Fears crocodile warnings need more teeth first appeared on Katherine Times.