The Australian government has rejected a controversial plan to allow crocodile safaris in the Northern Territory. There have been growing calls for hunting to be resumed following the deaths of two men killed by protected saltwater crocodiles near Darwin in the past two weeks. This week, a 10-year-old girl was injured in an attack in Western Australia.
The authorities in Australia's Northern Territory wanted to introduce small-scale crocodile safaris to boost the tourism trade and to help impoverished aboriginal communities.
The plan was to allow a maximum of 25 large crocodiles to be shot by visitors every year, at a cost of thousands of dollars per safari.
Australia's Environment Minister Ian Campbell has said he did not believe that crocodile safari hunting was humane, and was not consistent with a "modern day approach to animal welfare."
Animal rights campaigners have insisted that "trophy hunting belongs in another century."
Saltwater crocodiles inhabit swamps and waterways in Australia's tropical north, where they can grow up to seven meters in length.
These aggressive reptiles were once almost hunted to extinction across northern Australia, but their numbers have soared since they became a protected species in the early 1970's. It is estimated that there could now be more than 75,000 'salties' in the Northern Territory.
That's far too many, according to former crocodile hunter Mick Pitman, who believes that the ban on hunting should be lifted.
"People that are opposing it from down south don't realize what it's like to live with these animals in their backyard, and they don't realize how many of them there are," Mr. Pitman said. "Well the numbers are back up to pre-hunting numbers, apparently, and you know, the country will only sustain so many animals."
Mr. Pitman has warned that as the crocodile population increases, more people will be attacked.
For now - at least - fatalities remain extremely rare. However, the recent deaths of two men in the Northern Territory - killed by crocodiles within the space of five days - have renewed the debate over hunting.
This week a 10-year-old girl was injured in an attack by a saltwater croc in remote Western Australia. She was saved when her brother began punching the giant reptile in the head, and suffered only cuts to her legs, back and chest.
The Australian government will continue a separate program sanctioning the killing of 600 crocodiles by professional marksmen every year. They are shot for their skin or meat, or because they are a threat to people.