Jaws drop in Australia over theft of croc signs

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 July, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 July, 2003, 12:00am

They are quintessentially Australian souvenirs, but the theft of crocodile warning signs is putting tourists and fishermen in danger of being eaten by the giant reptiles.

Wildlife rangers in Queensland and the Northern Territory, where saltwater crocodiles up to five metres long lurk in rivers and swamps, say signs are sometimes stolen within days of being put up.

The signs, painted with yellow reflective paint, feature an illustration of a crocodile with its jaws open. They advise visitors not to go swimming, not to gut fish close to the water's edge and to camp away from crocodile-infested waters.

While plastic replica signs can be bought in tourist shops, it seems that for some visitors, only the genuine article will do.

Tim Holmes, a senior ranger with Queensland's Parks and Wildlife Service in Mackay, in the heart of crocodile country, said: 'It's a bit like going out for a big night on the town and coming home with a traffic bollard. People see these things and think they will make nice souvenirs. It's not very clever. There are crocodiles in a lot of the waterways but they keep a low profile and so fishermen and visitors become complacent. It's important to have these signs to remind people of the danger.'

Repeated pilfering of the signs prompted the Northern Territory's Parks and Wildlife Commission to introduce sturdier notices. 'The old ones were small and easy to pinch but the new ones are a metre wide and bolted to a couple of steel poles,' the commission's Karen Elligett said.