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Research

Australia Zoo’s longstanding partnership with The University of Queensland (UQ) dates back more than 10 years. With UQ Professor of Zoology, Craig Franklin, and his team at the helm of the UQ scientific research team, the collaborative annual croc research trip with the Irwin family and Australia Zoo is going from strength to strength.

The team continues Steve Irwin’s work to uncover the mysterious lives of crocodiles. This work has been greatly assisted through the use of GPS satellite tracking technology, time depth recorders and temperature recorders. Much of the information recorded has been merged with existing information from various sources to produce incredible insights into the lives of these secretive creatures.

Acoustic Telemetry is used to track the estuarine crocodiles (commonly known as “salties”) in the Wenlock River. Once captured, an acoustic tag is surgically implanted in the crocodile’s armpit. These acoustic tags send a signal to an array of around 50 receiving stations set up on the length of the Wenlock River and some surrounding water bodies. These signals are logged and when analysed enable us to discover how the crocodiles are using the river and interacting with each other.

During the August 2013 Croc Research Trip, six crocs were captured in the Wenlock River and fitted with additional GPS-Satellite transmitters. These transmitters record the animal's position and are accurate to less than ten metres. Data is transmitted by satellite back to our laboratory, where they are converted and displayed on Google Earth.

To date, the acoustic tag project is tracking a total of 120 estuarine crocodiles, providing critical data and contributing to the knowledge base of these incredible apex predators.

Another exciting new part of our research developing on The Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve is isotopic analysis. We hope that isotopic analysis will identify markers in bloods/muscle/bone to give us an insight into what makes up the natural diet of the Estuarine Crocodile and just how important the role they play is in their natural environment.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for us as there are many questions that remain unanswered. This vital research has provided insights into the travel range of a single crocodile, their ability to return to their habitat after relocation, revolutionary findings on their ability to remain submerged and their behaviour during flood events. All this information is critical in learning how to successfully manage our wild crocodile populations, and most importantly, keep people safe.

Each research trip to the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve continues to break new ground in crocodile research globally and is central to managing the co-existence of crocodiles and people.

Focus for 2014

2014 marks a new and very exciting era for the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve and croc research. Significantly, after a tireless six-year battle by the Irwin family, the Reserve was just last year declared safe from strip mining by the Queensland Government. The 2014 Croc Research Trip is the first expedition to the Reserve since the announcement.

With many resources now freed up following the Reserve being saved, more time and money can be channeled into croc research and other conservation projects.

The team will also be targeting female crocs this year, to expand on the data and knowledge of nesting behaviour. Additionally, re-captures will be a focus as a number of crocs have now been tracked for five years and need their tags switched in order to keep the momentum going with this valuable research.

Other research activities

Another new project on the Reserve involves The Eskitis Institute, a Drug Discovery research centre at Griffith University in Brisbane, that investigates novel drug and cell based therapies for cancer as well as other infectious and neurological diseases. Their scientists are planning a collection trip to the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve in August to collect samples of natural plants and resources that will be brought back and used in their research. Through samples collected from the pristine reserve, scientists hope to one day find a cure for many of these diseases.

UQ and Australia Zoo are also involved with a number of other significant research projects on the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve, including:

  • Speartooth shark research
  • Isotope research with bat colonies

Educating local communitities

Each year, the Irwin family take what has become almost a pilgrimage up to the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve, and as part of their conservation work there, they venture into local schools in Weipa to do talks with the children, to educate them on how to safely live alongside crocodiles. It is the Irwin family and Australia Zoo’s belief that individual culling is not an effective way to manage crocodile/human co-existence; Rather, research and education are the key.

Additional Crocodile Research by Professor Craig Franklin:

Click here for further information regarding the University of Queensland of Queensland Eco Lab