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Fewer crocodiles captured in the Northern Territory as poor wet seasons restrict movement

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a reptile lying in the dirt: It is estimated that there are now more than 100,000 saltwater crocodiles after facing extinction in the 1970s. (ABC News: Owain Stia-James)

It is estimated that there are now more than 100,000 saltwater crocodiles after facing extinction in the 1970s. 

Two drier-than-average wet seasons in the Top End have had an impact on saltwater crocodile movements, with catch numbers for the year well below average.

NT Parks and Wildlife ranger Tom Nichols has been catching crocodiles for four decades.

He said this year had been unusually quiet.

"We've had two bad wet seasons in a row so the crocs just don't seem to be moving around," he said.

Just 229 crocodiles were captured this year, which is well below 2018 when the equivalent of one crocodile per day was caught.

It comes after researchers at Charles Darwin University launched a study looking into the results of saltwater crocodile population recovery since they were declared a protected species in 1971.

The NT's crocodile populations were massively depleted by the 1970s after decades of legalised hunting for meat, skulls and skins nearly eradicated the animals.

At the nadir, it was believed there were only 3,000 crocodiles in the NT before they were declared a protected species.

It's estimated there are more than 100,000 crocodiles living in the Territory today.

And while the overall number of crocodiles caught this year is low, it does not mean that the population has fallen.

Mr. Nichols said he and fellow rangers were still seeing substantial numbers of crocodiles in heavily populated areas around Darwin, including Palmerston and Berry Creek.

Most of the animals were taken from Darwin Harbour, and Hope Inlet — near Shoal Bay — recorded the highest number of crocodile captures by area at 41 this year.

Mr. Nichols said this meant the majority of captures were happening in populated spaces.

"We've had a couple of swimming pools in the rural area and in people's backyards, but nothing that's really weird at this stage."

"It's funny that catching them in backyards has become the norm," he said.

The biggest crocodile captured was 4.2 metres.

Dry conditions could mean crocs stay in place

Ranger Nichols said he and his colleagues believed poor rains over recent years had led to creeks and river systems drying out.

Those waterways usually help saltwater crocodiles move around the Top End, but with many reduced or gone, crocodiles have been staying put.

"The chances of a saltwater croc getting into these rural areas is now very high and a lot of kids out here on quad bikes, buggies, and swimming in the water, they have just got to be croc wise," Mr. Nichols said.

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