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Reef Report for Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Crocodile Attack Shows Need for Caution in Crocodile Habitat

In a tragic incident that took place in Lakefield National Park, a 60 year-old man was dragged out of his canoe by a large crocodile, and is presumed dead.

The incident took place this past week on the Normanby River in this remote National Park, located a long dayís drive over dirt tracks from Cairns. It is dry season now, so the river, which can spread for miles across this flat landscape, has shrunk back into a series of large, deep, disconnected waterholes.

Evidence is slow in coming, but it appears that Mr. and Mrs. Jeffries were dragging a line with a piece of meat attached to it behind their canoe, in what was likely and attempt to attract crocodiles towards their boat. Unfortunately the technique worked too well, and a large crocodile lunged out of the water, grabbed 60 year-old Mr. Jeffries by the arm, and dragged him out of the boat. The event happened so quickly that his wife, Mrs. Glenda Jeffries, was unable to react, and given the size of the crocodile it was unlikely that anyone would have been able to interrupt the attack successfully once it had begun.

Over the next 24 hours the National Park Service was out looking for the crocodile, and shot and killed the large male crocodile that was the dominant animal in the waterhole, thought to be the most likely suspect. Male crocodiles are much larger than females, and can act violently to protect the territory that they actively patrol for rivals.

Its ironic, but Mrs. Jeffries had written a letter to the editor of the Townsville Sun, a local newspaper, a couple of years ago following a similar attack a couple of years ago, advocating a more measured reaction by authorities.

"An isolated incident in an isolated area of the North has the usual bunch of crocodile experts, ex-shooters and politicians calling for a cull. Who would benefit the most from trophy-hunting and culling of crocodiles? See above. A sensible assessment of the situation is more worthy than the sensational outcry that culling would save human lives. Most Australians never venture into these remote areas, and those that do know that precaution needs to be taken. The current call is for firearm laws to be relaxed in National Park areas, and while this idea has some merit, it is ironic that firearms can take more lives in one year than decades of crocodile attacks."

While the local paper has featured sensational headlines about reducing crocodile populations, a look at their letters and text messages to the editor columns shows an overwhelming public stance against such a culling campaign.

One of us has spent considerable time camping and leading tours in and around Lakefield National Park, a park known for large populations of crocodiles. We have cruised this same river with Park Rangers, looking for crocodiles in an aluminum skiff much larger than a canoe. Our experience has been that the rangers were quite cautious around large crocs, especially when encountered in the middle of the river. They told us this is markedly territorial behavior, and that any object near the size of a male croc (they can get up to 5 metres long) can be seen as a rival and attacked. In each case the rangers we were with turned the boat around while still at quite a distance from the animal and avoided any interaction with the croc,

Our feelings our with the Jeffries family, over what is a tragic loss. At the same time we recommend that you visit this beautiful national park, and enjoy it, as itís wild and amazing. Visitors here do need to take every precaution, and canoeing on waterholes known to be crocodile habitats is taking a large risk. Follow the precautions; donít endanger your life, or that of the crocs for whom the river is home.

If you wish to find more information about crocodiles in Australia, be sure to check out our large section of information on Australian crocodiles .

(C) DiveTheReef The weekly reef report is written by Joel Groberg of DiveTheReef.com, who compiles them from the many conversations he has with dive staff in the area, as well as† many other local sources in the dive community.

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