October 25th 2008
Croc under watch in creek
Early on Wednesday morning Magnetic Times received a call from Kylie, a neighbour of ours on the west coast of Magnetic Island. Kylie had gone for an early morning walk to the mouth of a small nearby creek and witnessed the 3.5metre saltwater crocodile which the EPA have been searching for around Magnetic, sliding into the water from the sandy bank.
Kylie wanted me to know so I could contact the EPA hotline. After leaving a message on the hotline I headed off to the location hoping for a photograph and to relieve our neighbour who was watching the creek's shallow mouth to see if the croc decided to make a run for the open bay.
When I arrived Kylie was certain that the croc was still in the deeper part of the creek amongst the many mangroves which close in around the small estuary.
I took over her vigil sitting quietly behind the sandy embankment some metres from the water's edge.
Channel bill cuckoos chortled overhead while mudskippers leapt in the shallows. Out on the sandy spit a lone pied oyster catcher bickered with a group of whimbrels while all was surveyed from on high by the resident osprey.
A little later the EPA's Magnetic Island Rangers appeared. Nathan and Michael equipped with a tracking device set to confirm whether our reptile was still in the deeper reaches of the creek. No "squawk" - the technical term used in the croc-tracking trade - was to be heard but, as the signal dies rapidly when the critter is underwater, this was not unexpected.
The tide had almost emptied out of the creek's mouth so I waded across the few feet, well away from the deeper reaches, to the southern bank. We inspected the sandy slide left after the croc slipped in and I couldn't help thinking back to the old Tarzan and Jungle Jim movies. We carefully tracked upstream peering through the dense mangrove to see a floating croc trap, which had already been set in anticipation of the croc's appearance, drifting amid a silent muddy blue pool. All was quiet.
With the EPA boys now on watch I returned home for breakfast.
Returning at mid morning, Nathan and Michael were still on watch but nothing had moved. They were soon ordered back to base as there was little likelihood of our croc making his way across what was now a kilometre or more of muddy tidal flats.
I returned again at 5pm to meet, EPA's Croc expert and Croc Team Leader, Scott Sullivan. Scott was the man who had released our croc down in the Haughton River system back in August as part of a research project. He'd attached the now famous "squawker" which was to report on the reptile's movements every five days and confirmed that yes there was a signal and the croc had definitely not slipped past our sentry point.
EPA Officers set a trap at the slide
That was Wednesday and, this morning, after a return trip to the site, we can confirm that nothing has changed. The EPA have their nets and three traps in place and are playing a long slow waiting game.
After the first night's watch Scott Sullivan said that four staff had stayed out till after midnight with nets and traps in a creek, but the crocodile did not leave its den.
"It was a cold, wet and frustrating night," Mr Sullivan said.
We understand that much the same happened last night.
"The team has spent many hours tracking and trying to catch this crocodile, and the weather has not been helpful in the past week," said Scott Sullivan.
"A crocodile might be easy to spot, but catching one can sometimes be a very different issue.
"We have the expertise, we have the equipment, and eventually we will have the croc.
A floating trap
"In creeks, we can use nets and traps, depending on the tides. In open water, we need to use a non-lethal harpoon.
"The EPA has been tracking this crocodile by satellite as part of a research program since releasing it south of Cape Cleveland on 21 August 2008. Readings are available on one in five days. We still have a lot to learn about how far crocs move along and between river systems.
"We also have a radio tracking device on the croc, but that is only useful when you are fairly close to the animal.
"Magnetic Island residents and visitors have been very helpful in reporting sightings.
"We are fully aware of the concerns of the local community, and we are doing our best to catch and remove the croc."
Mr Sullivan said that when caught, the crocodile would be taken to a holding facility in Townsville then offered to a crocodile farm.
"Public safety is the EPA's first priority in crocodile management, and given its appearance around public beaches this animal will not be released back to the wild," Mr Sullivan said.
Please report crocodile sightings to your local EPA office. For further information on crocodiles and how to be croc wise in croc country visit www.epa.qld.gov.au
Story & photos: George Hirst
(In an effort to minimise disruption to the EPA's efforts Magnetic Times has decided not to divulge the location of the croc until its capture. Ed.)
To add your comment,
or read those of others, see below