Terri Irwin Snaps Back At Plans To Harvest Wild Crocodile Eggs

Queensland crocodile farmers can now legally harvest wild crocodile eggs and hatch them for luxury goods, including handbags, shoes and meat.

The federal government quietly rolled out changes just before Christmas to the state's conservation laws without public notification.

Under the changes, croc hunters are able to apply for a license to harvest eggs from wild nests before selling them to private farms to be hatched and used accordingly.

The practice has always been banned in Queensland, while just over the border in the Northern Territory it's been common since the 1980s.

But environmentalists have hit out at the legislation, with Australia Zoo's Terri Irwin leading the charge.

Irwin, who works in partnership with the University of Queensland in crocodile research, is urging the move will be "catastrophic" for the state's crocodile numbers and is in line with China's decision to lift a ban on farmed rhino and tiger products.

“The Queensland State Government is destroying the future generations of an apex predator by allowing the removal of eggs from nests in our most pristine, wild environments,” Irwin said in a statement.

“This flies in the face of the most comprehensive research conducted on crocodiles. Compromising an apex predator initiates a trophic cascade effect, which will reduce the abundance of other animals in the ecosystem."

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The decision would also have ramifications in the illegal wildlife trade, Irwin warned, compromising the ability to keep track of individual animals used for meat and skin through their DNA.

“Captive wildlife is required to be identified by DNA," she explained.

"The introduction of a variety of DNA through the collection of thousands of new crocodiles completely eliminates the ability to keep track of the individual animal, its meat, or its skins... This new legislation enables this illegal trade.”

A female saltwater crocodile can lay anywhere between 40 to 60 eggs. Image: Getty

One of the world's few remaining links to the prehistoric past, saltwater crocodiles have been a protected species in Australia since the 1970s, after unrestricted hunting nearly wiped them out.

Guidelines set out by the Queensland government mean a limit of 5,000 eggs can be harvested across the entire state each year. The Northern Territory has a limit of 100,000.

Egg collectors will also be required to monitor local crocodile numbers and prepare reports, in a bid to ensure there is no detrimental impact on croc populations.

But Irwin isn't convinced.

"We also have great problems with regulating this system when we’re asking the people who are collecting the eggs and making the commercial gain to not only keep track of the numbers they’re taking but also to make sure that the populations of crocodiles are sustained," she told The Project on Tuesday.

"We've Got To Put People Before Crocs"

Crocodile goods can go for hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

According to a recent report by the NT government, the croc farming industry brought in an estimated $54.3 million to the state's economy in 2014-15.

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Crocodile skins are considered a luxury goods item, used to make bags, shoes and wallets around the world. Image: Getty

For Queensland farmers, it's expected an individual crocodile egg could be sold for up to $20, which when you consider a female saltwater croc can lay upwards of 60 eggs, seems like a lucrative business.

But it's not just the commercial gain of farmers the government has in mind.

"In relation to crocodiles I can tell you right now every time I go to North Queensland, it is a real issue," Queensland LNP leader Deb Frecklington.

"So if it is the case that we need to remove eggs which will stop more crocodiles roaming the streets...then that's what we gotta do. We've got to put people before crocs."

The state government also believes the chance to harvest eggs will provide an incentive for improved land stewardship and broader positive social impacts.

"Crocodile egg harvesting is a potential employment opportunity which may be significant for small or isolated regional communities where jobs can often be scarce," the Department of Environment and Science said in a statement. 

"With many Indigenous communities in these areas, egg harvesting can also offer people ways to work on country and play a greater role in land management and care."