A new collaborative research project exploring the science behind harvesting wild crocodile eggs in Cape York could lead to opportunities for Indigenous communities to manage their land and natural resources directly.
Charles Darwin University and Darwin-based crocodile specialists Big Gecko will conduct an experimental harvest of wild saltwater crocodile eggs in Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula, in collaboration with the Pormpuraaw Land and Sea Rangers.
The move comes after findings from a study that began in 2008 by Big Gecko into whether the saltwater crocodile population inhabiting key rivers in Aboriginal land around Pormpuraaw, in the western Cape York Peninsula, could potentially support a sustainable harvest of wild eggs.
The extensive baseline study, covering some 11 river systems in a defined study area, was directly funded by the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation.
CDU senior research associate Dr Adam Britton, also a partner in Big Gecko, said the results strongly suggested that a wild egg harvest in the area would be extremely low risk to wild crocodiles because extensive annual flooding already killed the majority of eggs.
“By only collecting eggs with a high risk of flood-related mortality before heavy rains, they can be redirected into valuable community development and employment incentives for the local community,” Dr Britton said.
“The next step in this investigation is to test whether initial findings hold up in an actual harvest situation by undertaking a small, low-risk harvest in localised areas and measuring whether this changes survival rates of hatchlings.
“If the experimental harvest supports the hypothesis that a wild egg harvest in the region is sustainable, there will be strong grounds to continue the harvest and bring economic and management benefits to the area.”
In 2011 CDU and Big Gecko conducted a Certificate II in Remote Crocodile Management for the Pormpuraaw Land and Sea Rangers funded by the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management. “The rangers will play a key role assisting Big Gecko with the collection of scientific data, monitoring nesting activity and collecting data on population densities,” Dr Britton said.
“This is an important step towards positive community development in Indigenous communities in the area, and provides additional opportunities for directly managing their land and natural resources. It will also have knock-on economic benefits for the crocodile industry as a whole in Queensland and result in greater involvement by Indigenous stakeholders.”