In 1934, Hartley’s became the first place in Australia to hold crocodiles in captivity for public display and was one of the first to successfully breed Saltwater Crocodiles. Documentaries produced at Hartley’s created sufficient public pressure to persuade the Queensland Government to declare crocodiles a protected species in 1974 and prohibit hunting of wild crocodiles.
Conserving crocodiles presents special challenges, as they are the largest predators in their habitats, with the potential to threaten humans and livestock. Worldwide, crocodiles were hunted for their valuable skins and meat.
During the 1960’s, over half the 26 crocodilian species faced extinction. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) developed conservation programs and international laws to ensure the preservation of all crocodilians. Along with over 100 other nations, Australia is a signatory to CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. Through CITES, the IUCN regulates the international trade in crocodiles and crocodile products. Federal and state laws protect both Australian crocodilian species.
The IUCN encourages the sustainable use of crocodiles for skin and meat production as a legitimate conservation tool. Crocodiles are a natural renewable resource with considerable potential for sustainable commercial use.
The Northern Territory and Western Australia operate under approved ranching plans. In Queensland, crocodiles are only farmed through captive breeding or the importing of hatchlings from eggs harvested under approved management plans in the Northern Territory or Western Australia. Captive breeding involves the keeping of adult stock on the farm for the production of offspring, which are raised for commercial production, the same as with chickens and cattle.
Government-controlled monitoring programs in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, ensure the wild populations are not over-harvested. Despite the removal of thousands of eggs every year the crocodile population in northern Australia is in excess of 150,000 and increasing.
Public education is an important component of crocodile conservation. By teaching people how to live safely with crocodiles, tragedy can in many cases be averted.