Staying safe around wildlife
Queensland has an impressive list of potentially dangerous wildlife. On land there are venomous snakes and spiders. In the water, more venomous animals can be found, ranging from thumbnail-sized jellyfish up to two metre wide stingrays with venomous barbs. And there are also the large predators: the estuarine crocodile and several species of sharks.
While some of these animals have the venom or size and power to cause serious injury or even death, the risk of this happening is extremely small. Australia-wide, snakes are responsible for the most fatalities each year, with an average of just less than three people (making them just slightly more dangerous than bees and wasps). Sharks cause less than one fatality a year and spiders even less than that. To put this in perspective, 359 people were killed in road accidents in Queensland in 2007 (with more than 1,000 people in the last three years).
Of the 19 crocodile attacks that have occurred in Queensland since 1985, there have been seven fatalities. Unfortunately a significant contributing factor in many of these attacks and related fatalities was that the victims were carrying out high-risk, inappropriate behaviours (e.g. wading or swimming at night in known crocodile habitat after consuming alcohol).
Crocodiles are clearly large and dangerous predators, but only if given the opportunity. For the best advice on how to stay safe in 'croc country' you should learn how to be croc wise.
We should be more afraid of bees than crocodiles or other dangerous native animals because they are responsible for more deaths and cause severe and potentially fatal allergic reactions in a large number of people. Bees are around us all the time and while many people get stung, these same people go through their entire lives never seeing a crocodile in the wild. Nevertheless it's crocodiles we fear (and even dream about!), not bees. Why?
Humans have evolved as both a predator and as prey. For millions of years our ancestors have had to live knowing that somewhere out there, there were animals that, if given the opportunity, could cause them serious injury, kill them, or even eat them. And there was always a risk that, some day, they would cross paths with one of these animals. Perhaps this has resulted in humans having a natural fear of these animals, much like a weak instinct that is still reinforced today by cultural and even religious beliefs. In some people this shows itself as an irrational fear of snakes or spiders accompanied by an urge to attack these animals on sight (and this is often how people get themselves bitten!).
Fortunately, the era of killing large animals out of fear and ignorance is now over and our perception of these animals is becoming balanced with a better understanding that they aren't 'man-eating monsters' but instead have a right to exist and an ecological role to play as top predators. Managing large predators then becomes a matter of educating people to avoid those places where these animals occur and, in turn, keeping the animals out of populated areas.
Flooding of waterways and low-lying areas can temporarily increase the mobility and distribution of potentially dangerous wildlife – particularly snakes and crocodiles – and as such these animals may be present in areas they do not usually inhabit.
All crocodile sightings in Queensland should be reported to the CrocWatch hotline on 1300 130 372. The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection records and investigates all crocodile reports made by the public and will take appropriate action based on the potential safety risk posed by the animal. A summary of all current crocodile sightings and declared crocodiles of concern is available on the department’s CrocWatch page. Always remember that no natural waterway in crocodile country is ever 100% risk free, and the public should remain 'croc-wise' at all times when in and around crocodile habitat.
Snakes found on premises can be removed and relocated by private snake catchers authorised under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. Contact details of local snake catchers can be obtained through the Yellow Pages or via the internet.
For information on wildlife that can be potentially dangerous, and how to be safe around them visit the following links:
- Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABL), Queensland Health
- Crocodiles, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection
- Flying-foxes, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection
- Insects, Queensland Health
- Marine Stingers, Surf Life Saving Queensland
- Marine creatures, Queensland Health
- Queensland Snakes, Queensland Museum
- Snakes, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection
- Spiders, Queensland Museum
- Ticks, Queensland Health.