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Arnhem Land rangers seeing higher prices for crocodile eggs, as slinging ban tightens supply

The Bawinanga Rangers collect saltwater crocodile eggs from swamps in Arnhem Land. (Facebook: Bawinanga Rangers)

Indigenous rangers in the Northern Territory are seeing a bump in the price they're getting for crocodile eggs this year, as the ban of a common method for egg collection tightens supply.

Over the past 10 years, more than 40,000 crocodile eggs have been collected annually from remote parts of the NT and sold to crocodile farms, where hatchlings are grown out for their valuable leather as part of a multi-million-dollar industry.

But this season, operators are banned from using a common technique for harvesting eggs, known as "slinging".

The practice — which involves lowering egg collectors from a helicopter onto crocodile nests — has been banned in the NT since March last year, following the death of "Outback Wrangler" star Chris "Willow" Wilson in a helicopter crash while slinging.

NT Worksafe said the ban would remain in place until it was satisfied that the "serious risk to health and safety" posed by the practice had been addressed.

Geoff Brook says crocodile eggs are selling for about $55 to $65 each this year. (Facebook: Bawinanga Rangers)

Higher price, fewer eggs

While the ban has impacted some operators, it has benefited others — including some Indigenous ranger groups who walk through swamplands to access nests and collect the saltwater crocodile eggs.

"It's affected a lot of the industry, but not so much our collection … it may just mean that we get a little bit more money," said Geoff Brook, land management coordinator for the Bawinanga Rangers.

The Indigenous ranger group is based in Maningrida in north-west Arnhem Land and had a permit to collect up to 3,000 crocodile eggs in the region this nesting season.

In past years, the group has employed slinging contractors to collect up to half of its permitted quota.

But with the rangers collecting about 90 per cent of this year's harvest, Mr Brook said they were earning $5 to $10 more per egg due to shorter supply on the market and fewer contracting costs.

He said the eggs were selling for about $55 to $65 each, with profits shared between the ranger group and traditional owners through the Northern Land Council.

But Mr Brook said there had been some setbacks, with seasonal and logistical challenges limiting collection to about two-thirds of their quota this year.

Despite this, he said the Bawinanga Rangers were hoping to increase their permit to 5,000 eggs in the future.

"We want to try to increase the numbers a little bit, which will increase jobs and [further] reduce crocodile numbers," he said.

Reducing crocodile numbers

Mr Brook said egg collection was an important practice to manage growing saltwater crocodile numbers in parts of Arnhem Land, with the NT-wide population rebounding to 100,000 from the brink of extinction 50 years ago. 

"[It's] absolutely important and requested by traditional owners that we do get the numbers down," he said.

"There's already a large number of crocodiles [in the region], so it reduces the risk of attack."

"We [relocate] large crocodiles as well, so that also helps [to reduce numbers and risks to people]."

Bawinanga Rangers Chris Campion and Geoff Brook collecting crocodile eggs. (Facebook: Bawinanga Rangers)

Mr Brook said the rangers had also implemented additional safety measures, as concern about safety in the industry grows.

"We just really need to dot all those i's and cross all those t's because at the end of the day, the safety of our employees is paramount."

He said the trade supported more than 20 jobs across the Djelk Indigenous Protected Area over the course of the collection.

According to the NT Department of Environment, there are currently 10 individuals or companies with 21 active permits to collect crocodile eggs in the NT.

"Typically, harvests have varied between 40,000 and 50,000 from the maximum allowable limit of 90,000 over the past 10 years," a department spokesperson said. 

The Crocodile Farmers Association of the Northern Territory has been contacted for comment.

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