Australians have been warned to beware of aggressive male saltwater crocodiles fighting it out for dominance, after the death of a giant 17-foot “saltie” created a power vacuum in a river.
A manhunt began on Friday for the person who illegally killed the “iconic” reptile, after its carcass was found in the Fitzroy River in central Queensland with a single gunshot wound to the head.
The incident sparked an urgent warning from the state government about aggressive behaviour from younger crocodiles in the area, which had been kept in check by the dominant male and were expected to start jostling for dominance.
“People need to clearly understand the death of this animal has changed the balance of the crocodile population in the Fitzroy,” the environment department’s diversity operations director Michael Joyce told Australian media.
“We can expect increased aggressive activity by younger male crocodiles. That’s because they will be competing to take the dominant position which is now vacant.
Mr Joyce added that he didn’t think the crocodile had posed a problem but rather, was “an important part of our ecosystem”.
“He is a crocodile that does spend a fair bit of time controlling the river and controlling the young animals that are in the river,” he said.
In Queensland, the maximum penalty for offenders caught killing a crocodile without authority is A$28,383 (£16,671), with the highest penalty reserved for those who kill “iconic” crocodiles, defined as being greater than 5m (16.4 feet) in length. The offender could also face up to three years in jail if found guilty of animal cruelty.
Since they were declared a protected species in the 1970s, saltwater crocodile numbers have exploded in northern Australia, reigniting debate about whether to cull them.
An average of two people a year are killed by the animals, which can grow up to 7 metres and weigh more than a tonne.
The reptile’s carcass was taken to nearby Koorana Crocodile Farm, where it will be buried after an autopsy.
The owner of the farm John Leaver said it was the largest crocodile caught in Queensland in 20 to 30 years.
The gunshot had caused a large hole in the top of the…