Queenslanders are now legally allowed to raid wild crocodile nests and steal the eggs for the purposes of meat, skins, and luxury goods, after the government rolled out some quiet changes to the state’s conversation laws. Now, croc hunters need only apply for a licence before they’re permitted to harvest the eggs, shipping them off to private farms and hatching them so that the reptiles can be turned into lavish fashion items such as boots, wallets, and handbags, the ABC reports.
Those collecting the eggs will have to abide by a certain set of guidelines, according to a Department of Environment and Science spokesperson, including monitoring local crocodile numbers and preparing reports “to ensure the harvesting is not having a detrimental impact on the local population.” The statewide population of hunters is also not allowed to take more than 5,000 eggs per year. In the Northern Territory, where the business of farming and trading crocs for commercial purposes has been legal since the 80s, the limit is 10,000.
The law changes—implemented without public notification—come in the wake of a new wildlife trade management plan that was submitted to the Federal Government earlier this year and included crocodile egg harvesting as one of its target areas. That request was approved, and the matter was opened up for national public consultation in May and June.
By legalising wild egg harvests, the Queensland government can be sure that they’ll be giving a healthy injection to the state’s lucrative commercial crocodile trade. According to a recent report by the Northern Territory Government, the croc farming industry added an estimated $54.3 million to the NT’s economy in the year 2014/15. That same report stated that fresh skins were typically exported at a value of more than $300 per raw skin—while the ABC suggests that premium skins can fetch somewhere in the range of $1,000 a piece. Other body parts such as teeth, claws, skulls, and skeletons can also be sold for the purposes of jewellery, ornaments, and Chinese medicine.
Financial incentives aside, though, there are those who are claiming that the new laws will also actually be beneficial from a conservation perspective—insofar as they’ll enable landowners to deal with unwanted crocs on their property.
"Landowner, graziers—a lot of these guys think crocodiles are vermin because they're not worth anything and they eat their calves or their foals," says Rockhampton crocodile farmer John Lever. "Now they've got an economic incentive to keep crocodiles on their place, so from a conservation aspect it really works."