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VANUATU CROCODILE RESCUE
MAEWO CROCODILE - A PRODIGAL CROCODILE RETURNS HOME- Press Release
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Saltwater Crocodile cruising the coastline

 

An international crocodile rescue mission ended succesfully on Vanua Lava, Vanuatu, when a 3.6 metre Saltwater Crocodile was returned to his home in the Selva River.

It is believed the crocodile was washed from Vanua Lava in a cyclone in 1998 to Ambae and then was further pushed to Maewo in 2002. Here is an absolutely classic example of a crocodile which had been shot, injured and become a huge problem. For a year the villagers of Maewo have been afraid of the rogue reptile as it cruised the western coast of the island.

Through the resources of the Vanuatu Environment Unit and Vanuatu Protected Areas Initiative (VPAI), the services of Steve Irwin and his Australia Zoo team were enlisted to help the crocodile.

Mr Russell Nara, the Deputy Director of the Environment Unit, said today, "Our main concern during this whole project has been to maintain the wellbeing of both the local people and the crocodile and with today's successful capture and relocation, everybody has been delighted with the result."

"I would like, on behalf of the Environment Unit and the Government of Vanuatu, to extend our greatest gratitude to the chiefs and people of Maewo, the Torba Provincial Council and chiefs and people of Vanua Lava, Mr Roy Hills Director VPAI, Jamie Dillion Peace Corps. Volunteer and above all Steve Irwin and team from Australia Zoo for his great partnership to this rescue."

Mr Roy Hills, Director of VPAI, said, "The Estuarine (Saltwater) Crocodile is an endangered species in Vanuatu and through the assistance of Steve Irwin and his team, the people of Maewo no longer need to be fearful of entering the sea and the crocodile has been saved from certain death."

Mr Steve Irwin, head of the Australia Zoo International Crocodile Rescue, dispatched his senior crocodile experts Mr Brian Coulter and Mr Toby Millyard in February 2003 to assess the problem. With the aid of a specially designed and built crocodile trap, he and his team were able to capture the reptile and, through the help of VanAir, transport the animal from Maewo to Vanua Lava.

Steve Irwin said, "I am so proud of the people of Vanuatu, particularly of the islands of Maewo and Vanua Lava for being part of this international conservation mission. The successful relocation of the crocodile is the greatest message that we can give to the world about the protection of an endangered species and, through my television program, the whole world will learn how compassionate the people of Vanuatu are in allowing the rescue operation to take place and at the same time showcase the beauty of the islands. I would like to thank Russell Nari and Roy Hills for making this project run so smoothly and so successfully."

 
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VANUATU CROCODILE RESCUE
Cyclone Smashes First Attempt

The following report outlines the dates and events and the role of the Australia Zoo staff in the capture and relocation attempts of the crocodiles at Narovorovo Village, Maewo Island, Vanuatu. We have also included some recommendations for future trips. Originally, Australia Zoo received a phone call from Roy Hills back in February regarding a crocodile that was hanging around the village of Narovorovo and taking livestock. The Government bodies of Vanuatu had organised for the Mobile Force to shoot the Croc - that's when the Australia Zoo International Crocodile Rescue team stepped in.

PERSONNEL

Brian Coulter - Curator of Crocodiles
Toby Millyard - Head Crocodile Keeper
Kate Bisschoff - Zoo Keeper

BACKGROUND

Brian and Kate made a preliminary visit to Vanuatu in February to assess the crocodile's situation. After Brian and Kate's trip and some discussions with Steve, it was decided that the best way to catch the crocodile would be to use a floating trap situated in the ocean in the front of the village of Narovorovo. Trevor, Australia Zoo's Engineer, built the trap and the personnel and the trap were flown to Vanuatu on the 07/03/03.

 

SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
Friday 07/03/03

Arrived in Narovorovo village at 4pm. Met with Naomi, Chief Lindsey's wife and were briefed of the crocodile's movements over the last two weeks. Surveyed the area for the croc with no signs evident. It was reported that the crocodile took a pig from the village of Navenevene that morning, which is a 90 minute walk north of Narovorovo.

 

Saturday 08/03/03

6am - Began assembling trap

7am - Crocodile spotted 200m off shore. He was slowly swimming north, exposing head, back and tail. He was surfacing every 10 minutes for a 5 minute surface interval then disappeared from site at approx 9:30am.

1pm - Crocodile trap fully assembled and launched into the ocean. A survey was carried out of the ocean floor to determine the best means of anchoring the trap. The trap was anchored in 10 metres of water using two reef anchors on the front, left-hand side to a coral reef. The rear of the trap was moored to a pier. A three metre bamboo pole was attached to the front of the trap and a chicken was split in three as a lead-in bait.

5pm - Crocodile was spotted 500m off shore, NW of the trap

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Trap preparation Trap preparation
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Trap preparation A croc's-eye view
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Trap set  
 

Sunday 09/03/03

6am - All lead-in baits still on trap. No sign of crocodile.

9am - Attached palm fronds to the top of the trap as shade and camouflage.
For the rest of the day, no sign of crocodile.

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Briano making last-minute checks The trap, placed successfully
 

Monday 10/03/03

7am - No sign of crocodile. We got word the crocodile was hanging around at the village of Talise, 20 minutes walk North of Narovorovo. Reports were that the crocodile was heading south.

11am - 12 noon - Crocodile surfacing every 10 mins at the river mouth exposing his head, back and tail.

1pm - Heavy winds and large swells began due to cyclone Erica, situated 200km NW of Vanuatu in the Solomon Islands.

1:30pm - Trap unsteady in the rising swell. A large sand anchor was found and attached to the front right hand side of the trap, securing the trap directly into the NW swell.
The rest of the day and night was spent closely monitoring the trap. Shit of a day.

 

Wednesday 12/03/03

6am - Trap has not moved and no sign of crocodile. Three metre swell and heavy shore break, very powerful onshore winds and torrential rains. After discussions it was determined to leave the trap in place for fear of smashing the trap in the in-shore break in an attempt to bring it in. We also did a presentation to the secondary school in Narovorovo, educating them on crocodiles. It went really well.

6:30pm - Crocodile spotted near trap. Unfortunately the lead-in bait had washed away. The croc was surfing the swells and appeared tired.

6:45pm - Croc surfed ashore. Toby and Brian stalked up and got within 15 metres of the croc and determined that the croc was 10 feet long and believed to be a male. Excited villagers came tearing down the beach to try and look at him but he fled back into the water.

11pm - Crocodile back on the beach. Brian and Toby managed to get within 10 metres of him by spotlighting him with a dolphin torch. The trap also appeared to be secure.

 

Thursday 13/03/03

Conditions still the same. Wind has not dropped and the swell is still too big to take out a canoe to re-bait trap. Trap holding well; no sign of crocodile.

6pm - Croc near trap.

6:30pm - Croc seen surfing into shore and resting on beach for 40 mins. He appeared extremely exhausted after spending the last 24 hours in a three metre swell.
Swells, wind and rain increasing overnight.

 
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Going

Friday 14/03/03

6am - Trap gone. Seas are still huge. Got a group together and briefed them in top jaw roping the croc in the event that he would come ashore again tonight. No sign of croc all day and night.

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Going Gone - The cyclone puts a stop to the mission
 

Saturday 15/03/03

No sign of the croc or trap and the seas are still huge. Continued to monitor the beach all day and checked with transport drivers for any word of sightings but no sign of him north of Narovorovo.

Sunday 16/03/03

No sign of the croc or the trap but seas have died down. Started searching for the trap with 10 locals (snorkelling gear) but the visibility was minimal. After two hours, wind, rain and swell picked up again. This afternoon, we made a presentation to the village of gifts from Australia Zoo. It went really well, with everyone in the village receiving something and was all filmed.

Monday 17/03/03

The weather has finally cleared up and the swell has dropped. A second attempt at searching for the trap; although the swell has dropped, visibility was still only at 1-2 metres. No sign of trap or crocodile. After a phone call with Steve, it was decided to return home to rebuild trap ASAP.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Because of the large territory that the crocodile occupies, trapping him is a time-consuming exercise. The crocodile has a range of over 20 kms. We still agree that a floating trap is the best means of capturing him. It's our strongest recommendations that a second trip is not planned until after the cyclone season (April/May).

Some suggestions for future alterations to the trap include:

  • 14 stainless steel 'D' shackles for attaching the floats to the trap
  • Swivel points mounted on trap for anchor ropes
  • Thicker rope for anchoring trap - 20mm rope from last time inadequate
  • Minimum of 2 x reef anchors and 2 x sand anchors
  • Chain to attach reef anchors to rope

CONCLUSION

This crocodile is extremely important to the conservation of Saltwater Crocodiles. Vanuatu is the most easterly point of their range and they are highly endangered in this region. This crocodile poses a threat to the livestock and children on the island of Maewo. The people have had to change their life around this crocodile; as they are coastal villagers, their daily routines have been affected. They are unable to fish, swim and dive which are important parts of their culture. They are very afraid for their children's safety and eagerly await the return of Australia Zoo International Crocodile Rescue.

 
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VANUATU CROCODILE RESCUE
Second Attempt auccess

The following report outlines the dates and events and the role of Australia Zoo staff in the successful capture and relocation of a crocodile on the island of Maewo, to it's original home on the island of Vanua Lava, Vanuatu.

PERSONNEL

Steve Irwin - Director of Australia Zoo
Brian Coulter - Curator of Crocodiles, Australia Zoo

BACKGROUND

Brian, Kate and Toby made a preliminary visit to Vanuatu in March 2003 to begin the process of trying to trap the crocodile and all details of this trip are documented in a previous report. Due to cyclone Erica, trap one was damaged so the trip was aborted. Brian then went back with a new trap on April 14 and was joined by Steve to complete the capture and relocation of Maewo Crocodile.

 

SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
14/04/03

Brian arrived in the village of Norovorovo at 12 noon and immediately began assembling the trap. The trap was anchored in front of the river mouth, which had been closed in from the previous cyclone. There was no sign of the crocodile today and no reports have been mentioned of sightings in the area for several weeks due to his fresh water supply being cut off. Snorkelled around trap to determine depth and set anchors. Sand bottom.

 

15/04/03

Began digging the river mouth out at 6 am, 19 metres of rock and silt at one metre depth. At 2 pm a good supply of fresh water was flowing into the ocean but still no sign of crocodile. A small pig was hung in the front of the trap and used as a lead-in bait.

 

16/04/03

Drove north of Norovorovo to search for signs of the crocodile. Reached Marino (30kms north of Norovorovo) at the northern tip of Maewo. No sightings of the crocodile.

 

17/04/03

Walked south of Norovorovo through 'The Cave of the Moon' to Baitora to the southern most point of the crocodile's range. No sightings reported. Returned to Norovorovo at 5 pm and a passing truck driver had spotted the crocodile an hour and a half north of Norovorovo in a remote area by a waterfall.

 
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Run or get a beating from the
"Mid-Year Hunters"
18/04/03

Walked north of Norovorovo all the way to Navenevene along the beach (10 km) looking for the crocodile and then walked back again. No sign of the crocodile although I did run into the 'Mid-year Hurters' and ran away fast!

Saw the same truck driver in the late afternoon and he had spotted the crocodile again in the early morning still at the waterfall.

 

19/04/03

Decided to have the trap towed up through the ocean by a small motorboat to the waterfall. Moved from Norovorovo to a bush camp south of Navenevene. Used a 15 kg pig as bait in the trap. The trap is set, still have not seen the crocodile.

 

20/04/03

Checking trap every hour. Heavy rain. Talking to the villagers who pass the area daily and there were several recent sightings of the crocodile. At 7 pm the villagers who were returning from Easter celebrations in Norovorovo had spotted the crocodile in the afternoon at the river mouth where the trap was originally anchored.

 

21/04/03

At 6am, packed up camp and walked to Norovorovo and arrived mid-morning but there was no sign of the crocodile. Walked back and arrived at the trap at 2:30 pm and spotted the crocodile 200 metres from the trap. At 7 pm checked trap, the gate was still up. Very heavy rain and large rocks were falling from the side of the waterfall. Small swell. Anchors holding well. No eye shine from crocodile.

 

22/04/03

At 5:45 am, I checked the trap and the gate was down. After closer inspection, the crocodile surfaced inside the trap. Latched the door shut on all four sides so the crocodile couldn't force the door open and covered the trap with two tarps to protect the crocodile from overheating.

 

23/04/03

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Steve and Briano drag in the trap

At 5:30 am the crocodile is quiet inside the trap. Very heavy rain. At 8:30 am, two sharks approximately 7 ft long (species unknown) were circling the trap. Pig carcass still floating inside the trap. Crocodile made threatening display and chomped the water and the sharks took off. At 12 noon Steve arrived and we began bringing the trap in. Anchor lines were cut and the trap was brought into the shallows.

Two top jaw ropes were secured and held by the ever-growing crowd. Steve jumped on the crocodile, securing his head and Brian came on behind as back-up for extra weight..

The crocodile measured to be 3.6 metres and approximately 300 kg in weight. An initial examination was carried out and the croc was confirmed to be a male. He had been shot twice; once in the right eye and once in the front left leg. The crocodile was operated on and the bullet wounds were treated. He was also given a long-acting antibiotic to assist in the healing process. The crocodile was then blind-folded and secured in a specially designed canvas crocodile sock for transportation to the airport.

 

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'Crocodile sock' - for secure transportation Securing the croc - top jaw ropes on



24/04/03

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This poor old crocodile has been shot and seriously injured. I administered first aid and long acting penicillin to his right eye which was damaged beyond repair. His injuries are probably the reason this animal has swum so far out of his normal range and become such a huge problem.

The crocodile was transported to the Naone airfield and loaded onto a special charter flight to Vanua Lava, with Steve and Brian. The flight to Vanua Lava was 120 nautical miles north of Maewo.

On arrival in Sola, Vanua Lava, the crocodile was loaded from the aeroplane straight into a boat and transported to the Selva River for release. The release site is a beautiful fresh water river, lined with pandanus and coastal hibiscus - perfect for crocodile habitat and the crocodile could not wait to get into it!

Educational talks on crocodile safety and biology were carried out by Steve and Brian to the community of Sola. They also conducted a survey on the Alligator and Selva Rivers and surrounding bay areas. Our crocodile was spotted near his release sight in a shallow tributary. No other crocodiles were spotted in the area.

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Seats removed - croc installed! Anxious to get back in the water, the croc
put up a good struggle - ropes were cut and
in he went.
 

25/04/03

Upon leaving the island, our crocodile was spotted from the plane swimming up the Selva River. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

VANUATU CROCODILE RESCUE
Request for Assistance and Acceptance Letters from the Republic of Vanuats

Below is the text of a letter sent from the Republic of Vanuatu to Steve Irwin via John Harrison, Best Picture Show, requesting "financial and technical assistance in capturing the crocodile currently sighted on the island of Maewo and relocating it to Vanua Lava, Banks, Torba Province".

Also below is a letter from the local governemnt of Vanua Lava island "accepting the crocodile currently sighted on the island of Maewo back to Vanua Lava, Torba Province".

 
To: John Harrison, Best Picture Show, Brisbane, Australia
From: Ernest Bani
Date: 04th March 2003
Subject: REQUEST FOR FINANCIAL AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE IN CAPTURING THE CROCODILE CURRENTLY SIGHTED ON THE ISLAND OF MAEWO AND RELOCATING IT TO VANUA LAVA, BANKS, TORBA PROVINCE

Dear Sir,

I am writing to you and your organisation to seek your assistances in capturing and relocating the crocodile currently being sighted on the island of Maewo. We have got the approval from TORBA Provincial authorities and the general population within the Sola area, as per attached letter, in accepting the crocodile to the island of Vanua Lava where, there is a small population that has been there for sometimes now.

This letter also serves to confirm to you, your organisation, and other individuals or organisations that are going to be involved in this operation that upon release of the crocodile, that the organisations or individuals involved will not be responsible or accountable for any issues that may arise thereafter. On a similar note, let me also confirm to you that the issues raised in the letter of acceptance for the TORBA Provincial Council, are not conditional to the release of the crocodile, but rather, these are issues that need to be considered by the Government of Vanuatu, as part of a long-term plan.

This office, on behalf of the Government and the people of Vanuatu will do everything within its capacity to assist you to ensure that this operation is done in the best interests of the animal, the people, and those individuals or organisations who will be involved in this operation.

Thanking you in advance for your great understanding and looking forward to working with you and your team on these challenging operations.

Yours sincerely

Ernest BANI
Head, Environment Unit

 
Mr Ernest Bani
Head
Environment Unit
PMB 9063
PORT VILA
27th February 2003
 
Dear Sir,
 
Re: ACCEPTING THE CROCODILE CURRENTLY SIGHTED ON THE ISLAND OF MAEWO BACK TO VANUA LAVA, TORBA PROVINCE

Dear Sir,

I am writing you this letter to confirm our people and the Provincial authority's acceptance and support to receiving the crocodile currently sighted on the island of Maewo. It is our firm belief that this is one of our crocodiles.

We recognise both the international and national conservation significances of protecting the crocodiles, given their status and rareness, especially in Vanuatu. Equally important, is the recognition of the continuous threats and dangers posed by the animals to the people living and working in the areas adjacent to the two rivers where the crocodiles are.

Therefore, as the authority vested with the responsibilities and commitment to protect the crocodiles and the human lives within TORBA Provincial Council hereby requests your organisation and your overseas partners to urgently assist us with the following:

  • Undertake a feasibility study and construction of a walkway/bridge across the Alligator River where people have been attacked by the crocodiles over the years.

  • Undertake rapid surveys to determine the following:
    1. population size of the crocodiles within the areas;
    2. number of males and females; and
    3. status of their food availability and habitat.

  • Undertake general awareness re crocodile's lifecycle, behaviors, and other necessary information.

Thanking you in advance for your great understanding and looking forward to working with you and your partners in this important issue.

Yours truly,

Christopher Mackenzie
Assistant Secretary General

 
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