Wildlife officials are on the hunt for a crocodile killer after a spate of gruesome slayings that have left rural Australia littered with headless corpses.
Rangers are investigating after 14 of the large reptiles were found dead by rivers and estuaries around Normanton, near the Gulf of Carpentaria, in Queensland.
Some of the saltwater crocodiles, which are protected under Australian law, have had their heads removed sparking fears they could be being poached to supply the black market.
ABC News reported rangers from the Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation (CLAC) officially recorded six crocodiles shot in the past two months.
But one local fisherman told the channel he had seen 14 dead crocs himself, all suffering gunshot wounds.
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Fisherman Dylan Leschke told ABC news: “A few of the locals and traditional owners are pretty concerned about who is out shooting these crocs.
“They’re not a threat to our society, these people are just getting trigger-happy and trying to shoot them under the radar.”
The serial croc killer, or killers, are also thought to be behind the butchering of Lizzie, a 40-year-old female crocodile named in honour of Queen Elizabeth II. Lizzie was found decapitated on the banks of the Daintree River in the area in May.
In Queensland hunting saltwater crocodiles was banned in the late 1970s after the species was almost driven to extinction. Now there are an estimated 30,000 of the animals in the state.
The creatures are still listed as vulnerable as they suffer pressure from livestock loss and clashes with cattle farmers. There is a maximum fine of £16,000 for deliberately hurting or killing a crocodile.
Around 50 crocodiles are removed each year by the local authorities when they are considered a threat to humans.
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A CLAC spokesman told the Guardian that killing large dominant crocodiles can disrupt the ecosystem.
He said: “The current situation in the Norman River is that there’s a large population of crocodiles and they’re maybe getting back to the population levels that were there before the hunting and skin trade. But they’re not doing anyone any harm.”
A Department of Environment and Science spokesperson said it was illegal to harm or kill estuarine crocodiles in Queensland.
They said: “Estuarine crocodiles in Queensland are a vulnerable species and are protected under the Nature Conservation Act 1992.
“It is unlawful to deliberately harm or kill crocodiles or be in possession of a deceased crocodile or parts of a deceased crocodile.”
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