(photo) The 5.2 metre crocodile found shot dead near Rockhampton, Queensland, is one of the largest ever seen in the state. Photograph: Queensland Police
A massive saltwater crocodile – said to be one of the biggest ever seen in Queensland – has been found shot dead and experts fear its demise could lead to other crocodiles becoming more aggressive as young males fight for supremacy.
Police and state environmental officers are investigating after the 5.2-metre male reptile was found with a bullet in its head in the Fitzroy river in Rockhampton on Thursday.
The crocodile was taken to the nearby Koorana crocodile farm, where it will be buried once a necropsy is carried out. Farm owner John Leaver said a five-metre crocodile had not been caught in Queensland for 20 to 30 years.
“There may have been some others shot in the wild that we don’t know about, but from my recollection, over the past three decades this would be the largest,” he said on Friday.
Leaver, who ran a crocodile removal service across the state for 20 years, said the largest one he ever caught was 4.95m in the late 1980s. “We caught that one up near Airlie beach [in Queensland],” he said.
Leaver said it was not unusual for a crocodile of that size to be found so far south. The farmer said Rockhampton locals used to shoot crocodiles “equal to that size” in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, before it was illegal.
It is believed the 5.2m reptile had been dead for a few days before a member of the public spotted it floating and notified environmental officers.
Leaver said the gunshot had caused a large hole in the top of the saltwater crocodile’s skull, suggesting the bullet came from a “fairly large-calibre rifle”.
“I would say that someone felt very threatened,” he said, when asked why he thought it had been shot.
We would expect people to be croc-wise in croc country and be extra vigilant.
Michael Joyce, Queensland Department of Environment
Michael Joyce, southern wildlife operations director at Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, said the remaining male crocodiles could act differently and become more hostile as they establish who will rule next.
“They don’t necessarily become more aggressive with outsiders,” Joyce said on Friday. “But we would expect people to be croc-wise in croc country and be extra vigilant.”
Joyce said wildlife officers would monitor the river to see what transpires and who becomes the next dominant male. “The whole thing could be over in 24 hours; at other times it could take months to see a slight move in the population,” he said.
Joyce said it was estimated to be between 80 and 100 years old.
“It is on the larger end of the scale, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “There are not a lot of crocodiles over five metres.”
People are being urged to notify the department of any crocodiles spotted in the river and elsewhere across Queensland, even if they are seen regularly.
Cassius, a male caught in the Northern Territory three decades ago, is recognised as the world’s largest crocodile in captivity. It measures 5.48m and lives at a farm on Green Island in far north Queensland.
A 6.16m Philippine crocodile called Lolong held the record until it died in 2013.
Friday 22 September 2017 00.38 EDT