Reports of crocodiles crossing the Timor Sea have raised an unsettling question: could the prehistoric Australian predators be migrating?
Researchers at Charles Darwin University have launched an international probe to find out.
The team has been using a special prong to collect skin samples from saltwater crocodiles up to five metres long in Australia, Timor-Leste and as far north as Singapore.
They are hoping to collect similar samples from other locations including Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
The plan is to analyse DNA of animals found in various locations to determine how closely related they are.
That information will be used to understand their movements and whether they are capable of migrating large distances between countries.
Charles Darwin Professor Sam Banks says the results could have important implications for conservation as well as human safety.
“There’s no reason to think crocodiles are bound by national or international borders,” he says.
“This research will get us thinking about whether we need a regional approach towards managing these ancient beasts.”
Saltwater crocodiles pose a danger to fishermen in Timor-Leste but are also revered in traditional culture.
The team sampled animals found in the wild there as well as others being kept as “pets”, including a four-metre female named Maria said bellow when hungry, prompting her owners to feed her chickens.
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