Drones are a game-changer in crocodile management

Issued: 28 February 2020

A research and innovation program led by the Department of Environment and Science (DES) that uses drones could significantly improve the management of problem crocodiles in Australia and overseas.

Senior Wildlife Officer Matt Brien said the new technique was first developed by DES wildlife officers in 2019 who were researching improved methods to capture crocodiles.

“This direct capture method takes advantage of the crocodile’s instinctive predatory response to grab anything it sees moving at the water’s surface,” Dr Brien said.

“Using a drone, wildlife officers skim a baited noose along the water’s surface near the target crocodile.

“When the crocodile grabs the moving bait and attempts to eat it, the noose locks onto the animal’s top jaw and the rope is released from the drone.

“The drone is flown back to its launch point and a float attached to rope allows wildlife officers on a boat to find the rope and retrieve the crocodile.

“Wildlife officers have already used this novel approach to ‘direct-capture’ a problem crocodile from Innisfail’s Johnstone River in August 2019, and the whole process took about 15 minutes.”

Dr Brien said this is the first new innovation in crocodilian capture methods to be developed in decades.

“Previously, the standard methods used to capture estuarine crocodiles were restricted to the use of baited traps, nooses, harpoons and stationary baited lines,” he said.

“While those methods have been effective, the drone technique provides another option for wildlife officers to rapidly capture crocodiles, while minimising any harm or injury to the animal.

“Inspections of the top jaws of crocodiles captured during the research program showed the noose caused the animals no abrasions or bruising.

“This new capture method provides researchers and wildlife managers with an innovative, non-lethal, humane and efficient way of removing wary and hard to capture crocodiles from the wild.”

Research to develop the drone method to capture crocodiles was conducted with animal ethics approval from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

All drone activities were compliant with Civil Aviation Safety Authority regulations.

The findings of the study will be published in March in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Herpetological Review.

Much of Queensland is known habitat for crocodiles and people in Croc country are reminded to always be Crocwise. In particular:

  • Expect crocodiles in ALL central, northern and far northern Queensland waterways even if there is no warning sign
  • Obey all warning signs – they are there to keep you safe
  • Be aware crocs also swim in the ocean and be extra cautious around water at night
  • Stay well away from croc traps – that includes fishing and boating
  • The smaller the vessel the greater the risk, so avoid using canoes and kayaks
  • Stand back from the water’s edge when fishing and don’t wade in to retrieve a lure
  • Camp at least 50 metres from the edge of the water
  • Never leave food, fish scraps or bait near the water, at camp sites or at boat ramps
  • Never provoke, harass or feed crocs
  • Always supervise children near the water and keep pets on a lead
  • Remember, you are responsible for your own safety in Croc Country
  • Report all croc sightings to DES by calling 1300 130 372.

Visit Be Crocwise for further information.