AN expert says the death of Fitzroy's king crocodile, nicknamed "The Croc Father", will start years of chaos as young males battle for territory, food and females.
The battle for the reptilian crown is about to begin as we move into breeding season and the young crocs realise the king is dead.
The 60-plus-year-old crocodile commanded all others before being slaughtered by a bullet to the head in what local expert John Lever believes "was no chance meeting".
The shot has left behind a giant 5.2m hole in Rockhampton's crocodile community.
Koorana Crocodile Farm owner/operator John said it's likely the crocodile would have spent its entire life in the Fitzroy River, and could have lived a further 30 years had he not been slaughtered.
Excavator humming in the background, John had just laid to rest the corpse about 11am after wildlife officers and police had collected the samples needed to perform an autopsy.
John explained dead crocodiles sink to the bottom before surfacing two to three days later, so speculates this slain animal was shot several days ago.
LISTEN | Local croc expert shares insights on shock killing
"This one is obviously an alpha male in that area," he said.
"He could have anything to 15-20km as his territory over which he rules, now he is gone the younger, subordinate males that... were kept in check will realise he is gone and they will start to fight to become the alpha male, this is normal practice in the animal world.
"So what we will have over the next couple of seasons is all the young males fighting to get all the females, and they will fight each other for that territory where the females live.
"When you get that you get crocs vying for food space and females then they become a lot more territorial and they get a lot more dangerous to people.
"With a big old croc like this, it doesn't matter how many years he has been there, he certainly hasn't attacked anyone, he hasn't approached boats... he is just a big shy crocodile that keeps out of the way and that's the sort of alpha male you want; that keeps his own crocodile community in check, but doesn't bother people.
"But anyway he is gone, so we are looking at a bit of an unstable crocodile community for the next couple of years."
John has dedicated his life to crocodiles and said this creature was larger than any he'd ever caught in more than 20 years of crocodile removals; his largest removal was 4.95m.
"It saddens me greatly actually this is an iconic crocodile, he was 5.2m long, he has probably survived for at least six decades and to remove him from his place down the river this way is really, really sad," he said.
"We know crocodiles of this size have to be taken away from areas of public recreation and that's accepted, but for people to take the law into their own hands and just go and shoot them, it's not quite right, of course it is against the law as well."
As police launch a man hunt for the culprit, John hopes their actions won't incite Australia-wide copy-cat cases of people taking matters into their own hands.
"It is sad, but people just feel threatened by them," John said.
He said often when unsuccessful efforts are made to remove crocodiles, frustration grows and if they get an opportunity people will "go out, seek it and shoot it deliberately".
"This is no chance meeting with this crocodile," he said.
"The angle, it was shot in the top of the head, which means it was a boat or high bank somewhere," he speculated.
"So no quite kosher, and certainly I hope its not going to start off a session of going out taking the law into their own hands."
John has explored and worked in Australia's most crocodile infested waters.
In renowned crocodile kingdom Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, John said sightings are "guaranteed".
In comparison, John said, Rockhampton's waterways do not actually boast many crocodiles.
"In the Fitzroy you can go out 10 nights and not see a crocodile," he said.
"Then someone paddling a canoe will see one the next day."
John concedes the predator may strike fear in those who don't share his passion, but stressed they are an integral part of the ecosystem.
He said they stand alone as the only animal that takes from the land and fertilises the water; "they are the start and end of the food chain".
Rockhampton Criminal Investigation Bureau officer-in-charge Detective Senior Sergeant Luke Peachey said this is the first crocodile killing he has encountered.
Unfortunately for John, he has seen it all before.
"When we were up hunting back in the 80s and 90s a lot further up the Fitzroy River... there was a big deep hole near Glenroy Crossing and we were trying to catch a crocodile there which would have been equal to this one if not larger.
"We spent about three months trying to catch and actually had it on a harpoon line at this stage but he broke free and then we tried to trap him and he wouldn't go into a trap, and they are difficult to trap.
"So it was found floating, and people who were canoeing found it floating and photographed their canoe alongside the crocodile, and their canoe was 16-feet long and the crocodile was the same."
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