They call him the ‘Real Crocodile Dundee’.
Mick Pitman has been in the game 37 years, and he’s still going strong, currently on the trail of a five-and-a-half metre monster which he says has been killing two cattle a week.
“He’s gone a bit like my old man – werewolf disease I call it, when the sun goes down he goes a bit mad,” he told The New Daily.
Pitman says he’s currently waiting for a permit and a bigger trap – the one he usually uses isn’t big enough to catch a croc this size.
He’s hoping to catch this one alive, but as it is, hunters like Pitman can legally kill crocodiles if they have been causing problems like eating cattle, provided a permit is secured – 600 a year are issued in the Northern Territory, which has a total croc population of more than 100,000.
Pitman doesn’t always trap them – he also harpoons crocs from a boat, a process he describes as similar to fishing. What he’d like, however, is for it to become legal for him to take trophy hunters out with him and let them do the kill, overseen by someone experienced enough to ensure it happens as humanely as possible.
“It would be the same as what is already happening now anyway, except someone else pulls the trigger and we get to make an extra $20 grand,” he said.
There certainly isn’t a whole lot of appetite for loosening the rules about trophy hunting right now.
The story of Cecil the lion being lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe to be shot by a bow-and-arrow-wielding American dentist has sent shockwaves of outrage throughout the world, with the reaction prompting US airlines Delta and American to ban the shipment of big-game trophies on flights.
Australia has already taken significant action to discourage the trophy hunting of lions – in March, Environment Minister Greg Hunt banned the import of lion parts from Africa.
The Humane Society International Director Michael Kennedy told The New Daily that Mr Hunt deserves credit for taking action on this issue and other moves made to crack down on the trafficking of rhino parts, but that the Minister is under increasing pressure to allow trophy hunting of crocodiles in the Northern Territory.
“It was first raised as an issue in 1994, when [Labor government Environment Minister] John Faulkner knocked it back and said we don’t want this in Australia, don’t bother asking,” he said.
“Nevertheless, the NT has kept trying, even though ministers from both major parties always say no – the latest being Greg Hunt.”
Minister for indigenous affairs Nigel Scullion floated the idea in June that Aboriginal communities be allowed to issue crocodile safari hunting permits so “our first Australians can get a bite of the economic bullet”.
Currently, croc hunting permits in the Northern Territory are only issued for cases where the animal is posing a threat to humans or livestock, not for trophy hunting.
Mr Scullion suggested to the ABC that the scheme could be brought in within a year with hunters paying $20,000 to $30,000 per crocodile, however that idea was swiftly knocked on the head by Mr Hunt.
Mr Kennedy said it seemed there was growing pressure within the government for Mr Hunt to relax the laws, particularly from the Nationals, who he said were getting “a bit uppity”.
“Greg Hunt is holding the line for now, but he is one man in a big cabinet,” he said.
The recent federal government White Paper on developing northern Australia recommended streamlining permits for crocodile souvenir exports.
Trophy hunting crocodiles isn’t just supported by hunters – reptile expert Graeme Webb has described it as a powerful conservation tool.
A spokesperson for Mr Scullion advised The New Daily that the ball is in the Environment Minister’s court.
“Minister Scullion continues to support it [the push for trophy hunting of crocodiles] but Greg Hunt is the responsible Minister,” the spokesperson said.
Advisor for Mr Hunt John O’Doherty told The New Daily that no changes to trophy hunting laws in the Top End were planned.
“The Minister has already rejected one proposal for crocodile safari hunting and we have absolutely no plans to change that decision,” he said.
As for the ‘Real Crocodile Dundee’ up in the Territory, he’s resigned to waiting for his permit.
“It’s a bit like tax time this time of year – they collect your permits in June and investigate them, then in August you can get them back,” he said.