Terri Irwin has been called out for spreading “misinformation” as she wages a public campaign to have croc-egg harvesting overturned in Queensland.
The wildlife warrior is using her international following to petition the state government to ban the practice, which was legalised late last year.
However, the lead scientist behind a lengthy study assessing its effect on croc populations has hit back at the Irwins and Australia Zoo for “misleading” the public.
The Queensland government has also rejected Australia’s Zoo’s claims about crocodile population decline and called into question the zoo’s own research and claims.
Meanwhile the first Indigenous community to begin small-scale harvesting to generate employment has spoken out against the Irwins’ crusade.
Croc-egg harvesting has been practised in the Northern Territory since the 1980s, but was only recently introduced in Queensland to provide remote Aboriginal communities with an income source.
Dr Irwin has rejected the science behind the Queensland government’s decision, describing it as “flawed”, “foolish” and “completely ignoring the vulnerability of the species”.
Bindi Irwin has also posted impassioned pleas to her 420,000 Facebook followers to sign Australia Zoo’s petition from anywhere in the world so the animals are not killed for “boots, bags and belts”.
— Terri Irwin (@TerriIrwin) April 10, 2019
However, zoologist Dr Adam Britton, who was commissioned by the state government to lead a study from 2006 to 2015 that was reviewed by a scientific panel, said harvesting did not hurt wild croc numbers.
The study collected data on nesting, survival rates and crocodile populations over nearly a decade, also specifically addressing the Irwins’ concerns.
“When Terri Irwin says [egg harvesting impacts croc populations] it puts my blood pressure up,” Dr Britton told The New Daily.
“Everything behind this has been carefully done, so when Terri Irwin says it will affect crocodile populations she’s completely wrong because the whole purpose is to not impact crocodile populations.
“They are not being truthful with some of the things they say. She’s misleading people, and I find that incredibly frustrating.”
Dr Britton, a croc researcher and consultant with Big Gecko, said Dr Irwin was “not accepting the science” while failing to provide her own evidence to support her claims.
Dr Britton’s work, which involved Indigenous rangers at Pormpuraaw, a tiny community on west coast of Cape York, found most crocodile eggs do not successfully hatch in the wild.
Dr Britton said a female crocodile could lay up to 3000 eggs in its lifetime, of which only one or two needed to survive.
“Our study showed that the vast majority of eggs go underwater, drown and die,” Dr Britton said.
“If you can identify the nests that will survive or not, and harvest eggs from the nests that will drown, then you are not affecting survival.
“If all the eggs survived we would be up to our armpits [in crocodiles].”
Dr Britton said the study included an experimental harvest in which Indigenous rangers successfully identified which nests were unlikely to survive.
A spokesperson for Queensland’s Department of Environment said Australia Zoo’s submission had been considered in detail but it “did not include specific research data about the sustainability of crocodile egg
harvesting in Queensland”.
Instead the zoo made claims about population decline in the Northern Territory which the department said was wrong. The government also rejected the zoo’s assertion that there was not enough long-term data from Queensland.
“Extensive scientific research was undertaken over eight years in the Pormpuraaw region before this legislation was developed,” the department said in a statement to The New Daily.
“This research was reviewed twice, and significant consultation was undertaken with senior Pormpuraaw community representatives, local governments in North Queensland, conservation groups, local and international scientific experts, Australia Zoo and Queensland’s crocodile farming industry.
“The findings from the eight years of research was reviewed and supported by world leaders in crocodile research and management from the Crocodile Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).”
Indigenous Land and Sea ranger Gavin Kendall said Pormpuraaw rangers have now begun Queensland’s first and only licensed harvesting (Queensland has a statewide limit of 5000 eggs per year compared with 120,000 in the NT. The Pormpuraaw rangers are licensed for 800 eggs).
To obtain a commercial wildlife harvesting licence, applicants must supply a proposal and research report on local croc populations.
Mr Kendall said a group of eight rangers was collecting the eggs and giving them to the local Edward River Crocodile Farm to eventually generate more full-time jobs at the farm.
He said he was upset by Dr Irwin’s vocal opposition to their small-scale operation.
“We are traditional owners; it’s our land, it’s our country and we are doing stuff our ancestors used to do – collecting eggs to provide for their family,” he told The New Daily.
“At the end of the day it all comes down to employment for the locals. When we get this up and running we hope the farm will be able to employ another two people, but it’s going to take a while.”
Edward River Crocodile Farm owner Clinton Paradise said his business was a small-scale hatchery that currently employs one full-time person. Hatchlings are grown to about 60 centimetres and sold to other crocodile farms.
Until now, Mr Paradise said the farm had to breed its own eggs, which was slow and difficult work.
He said it took about 10 years for females to reach reproduction age, but “if the males don’t get along with their girlfriend they just eat her and we lose the females”.
“We need wild egg harvesting to happen because it is so hard to get access to breeder-age female crocs,” Mr Paradise said.
“Currently we get all our eggs on the farm and we are not getting big numbers. We are only producing about 900 eggs, but our hatchery is capable of 5000 babies.
“We want to see this happen because we are connected with the community and the more numbers we can have the more people we can employ.
“I have nothing against Terri Irwin, but I think too much emotion is tied up with her take on the whole thing.
“The research has been done. These are eggs that would have been dead already.”
The New Daily sought comment from Terri Irwin and Australia Zoo but did not receive a response.