13/04/10         190541
Terri Irwin irwin talks to media about the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve being attacked by mining.
Photo: Cade Mooney Sunshine Coast Daily
13/04/10 190541 Terri Irwin irwin talks to media about the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve being attacked by mining. Photo: Cade Mooney Sunshine Coast Daily Cade Mooney/cm190541

Terri Irwin bites back over Bob Katter croc attack

EARLIER this week, Independent federal MP Bob Katter told Terri Irwin to start living in "the real world" where crocodiles were ripping humans "to pieces" and needed to be culled. He criticised her "greenie" views, her belief that people needed to co-exist with crocs and for asking Queensland MPs to rule out a crocodile cull. Today, in an exclusive article for the Sunshine Coast Daily, Terri explains why people have to learn to live with crocodiles.

CROCODILES - it's a word that brings many things to mind.

Our natural instinct is to avoid this predator but over the past 30 years studies have shown that we have misunderstood this modern day dinosaur.

This apex predator is often very loving to his mate. Females are protective mothers and not all large crocodiles eat large prey animals.

I have to admit, crocodiles were one animal that I never thought of, growing up in Oregon on America's west coast.

I was involved with very different animals: predatory mammals. I rescued animals like bobcats, cougars, and even bears.

Oregon's black bears are awesome animals. They can run 55kph, climb trees and are passionately protective of their young.

I grew up in bear country. As a kid, my dad would tell me stories of sharing the woods with bears when he was little.

Dad grew up during the Depression and his family depended on elk and deer hunting to put food on the table. The bears never bothered them.

I went camping and trout fishing with my family regularly. We saw bears, sometimes with cubs, but we never had a problem with them.

As a teenager, I spent my summers with my horse in the Eagle Cap Wilderness area. I was a junior counsellor working with young people on summer camp programs. We encountered bears while on horseback and while camping, but always without conflict.

I learned early on that living with wildlife was a bit like learning to drive - once you know the rules, it's much easier to avoid accidents.

In 1991 I had the opportunity to visit Australia. I was staying in Brisbane, but like so many tourists, came up to the Sunshine Coast.

A chance encounter at what was then the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park lead to the life-changing adventure that was Steve Irwin.

Our whirlwind romance meant that we were married after spending the sum total of six weeks together. But even then, we packed in a great deal of adventure.

Steve took me to the southern-most population of saltwater crocodiles at the Burdekin River. We went spotlighting at night and Steve found several crocodile nests during the day.

My education about Australian wildlife had begun.

Throughout our 14-year marriage I felt incredibly blessed. Not only did I travel more of Australia than most Australians, I was lucky enough to be learning every day. This was especially true when it came to crocodiles.

In the 1980s Steve was part of the East Coast Crocodile Management Program assisting the government by relocating problem crocodiles. Steve spent six months of the year living in the bush with his dog catching crocs.

Together, our conservation work also included a more formal research component, which we embarked on 12 years ago with The University of Queensland and Professor Craig Franklin.

One of the first and most dramatic things we learned was that saltwater crocodiles cannot be successfully relocated.

When we moved a large croc from a remote location on the west side of Cape York to a remote location on the east coast of the Cape, the crocodile took four months to travel up the east coast to the tip of the Cape, then down the west coast to within 100 metres of where he was first captured.

He accomplished all this after being transported by air and blindfolded.

Although it was disappointing to learn that crocs couldn't be relocated, continued studies meant that we couldn't argue with science. The most brilliant minds at the time, in the 1980s, got it absolutely wrong.

This passion to learn about crocodiles has continued and, 10 years after Steve's death, our research project is the most comprehensive in the world.

I have tremendous appreciation for crocodiles. The more I learn about them the more I love them.

Crocodiles are to the ecosystem what the roof is to your house. If you remove your roof, your house will be destroyed. If we remove crocodiles, everything in the river system will suffer.

Where the greatest population of crocodiles occur we have the most barramundi and mud crabs. The most pristine areas in northern Australia are home to these spectacular saurians.

They have survived when the dinosaurs died out. They survived the ice age. Now their greatest threat is from humans.

Crocodiles are dangerous animals. But along with sharks, there is nothing humans die of less.

An average of one person per year dies from a crocodile in Australia. We certainly need to manage this situation, human life is the most valuable consideration.

The reality is that humans should be easier to manage than crocs. With education programs, signage and better communication we can teach people how to avoid crocodiles.

They're not bears. Crocodiles are aquatic predators. Extra safety precautions around their waterways will definitely mitigate conflict.

Studies also show that when we see crocs, we don't go into the water.

We will never be able to remove all crocs from a river system (they can travel 60km a day) but removing some of the crocodiles leads to a false sense of security.

People simply cannot share water with crocodiles. Now more than ever we need to learn how to live with wildlife. It's our best hope for a bright future.

I am involved with projects to employ people with guns to protect rhinos and I have a team of 28 people in Sumatra who dismantle illegal traps in order to protect tigers.

Let's protect Australia's wildlife while it still can be wild.

We also have tremendous opportunities to promote our wildlife through tourism. 70% of international visitors to Australia come here with the hope of experiencing our wildlife.

All of the "big five" are dangerous animals, yet Africa has turned them into billions of dollars from visiting tourists who want to see and photograph them.

I say this not just as a conservationist. I am a business woman. I am a grazier with Belmont cattle. I spend a month of every year researching crocodiles.

I am a mother who wants all our children to live in a world with clean air, fresh drinking water, and an abundance of wildlife.

And for the past seven years I have been an Australian.

As long as I draw breath I will be doing my best to affect positive change in this beautiful country that I love.

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