Police are investigating the death of an iconic 80-year-old crocodile that has left an Australian town reeling and locals preparing to hold a memorial for the massive creature.
The body of the 15-foot-long saltwater crock named Bismarck—a fixture of the community and a tourist attraction—was found by a local fisherman.
Ryan Moody discovered Bismarck’s remains in Cardwell’s Meunga Creek last week, hung up on waterlogged branches and decomposing.
Moody uploaded footage of the scene on social media, saying: “Well, Cardwell, say goodbye to one of your biggest tourist attractions. This croc was never a threat to humans.”
*WARNING: graphic video
Meunga Creek: Police are appealing for public tip offs, as officers and rangers investigate the death of Cardwell's most well-known crocodile. There are fears the four and a half metre reptile called 'Bismarck' was shot. Credit: Ryan Moody Fishing. #7News pic.twitter.com/020wwZzhDO
— 7 News Townsville (@7NewsTownsville) March 5, 2019
‘One of Us’
“It’s very, very sad for Cardwell,” longtime resident Thea Ormonde said, according to Australian media ABC.
“We saw Bismarck as part of our community, he was such a gentle soul as far as crocodiles can go,” Ormonde said. “He was one of us.”
She recalled going on crabbing trips as a child with her father and seeing the massive reptile perched on the river bank. Ormonde said Bismark never behaved in a way that was threatening.
“He was never aggressive, he would always let people know he was around, he was never stealth-like or would attack people,” Ormonde said.
Australian media ABC reported there was evidence Bismarck had been intentionally killed.
“Amazing how humans can just make situations become more dangerous through acts of pure stupidity,” Moody said. “I wonder if he’d like it if I came round and jumped on his head for an hour with my fists. Probably not.”
Police in Far North Queensland are appealing to the public for information after famous crocodile Bismarck, considered a tourist attraction in his own right, was found dead. #7Newshttps://t.co/jYBt2V3idS
— 7News Yahoo7 (@Y7News) March 5, 2019
Reports that Bismarck was shot to death have prompted authorities to appeal to the public for more information, with the Queensland Department of Environment and Science investigating the matter, according to the Washington Post.
Confirmation is pending on the exact cause of death, but Moody suggested Bismarck was shot in the head.
“Old Bismarck has received a couple of lead injections to the back of the head from some oxygen stealing piece of [expletive],” Moody said on social media.
Sgt. Stephen Gillinder of the Cardwell Police was cited by The Daily Mail as saying that if the crocodile had indeed been killed intentionally, the perpetrator could face serious consequences.
“Depending on the class of the animal if they are endangered or protected, the penalties can be severe,” he said.
Gillinder added the police are still working to determine the animal’s cause of death.
Under the Nature Conservation Act, it is a crime to deliberately interfere, harm, or kill crocodiles without authorization with a maximum penalty of $29,373 (US$20,590).
In practice, the fines are often less severe, as in the recent case of a cane farmer in a remote location in the Australian province of Queensland being fined $500 for trapping a crocodile on his property, leading to its death.
The court noted 69-year-old Errol Copley set up the trap because he had to get in the water for work and was afraid for his life.
“You told [the police] you had set the line to see if there were any crocodiles in the water next to the riverbank on your property, because you had to get into the water to do some work in the water and you were concerned for your safety,” said Magistrate Sandra Pearson, according to ABC.
‘Bismarck Was Protecting Us’
Ormonde said Bismarck’s presence was a boon for the community because it meant aggressive crocs kept their distance.
“Bismarck was protecting us because we always knew where he was and he kept other male crocodiles at bay,” she said.
Moody was cited by ABC as saying: “I used to walk right next to him at the mouth of Meunga Creek while gathering bait and flicking lures. Let’s just hope the big aggressive crocodile from across the channel doesn’t move in.”
Gillinder said crocodiles “are an apex predator but this one didn’t show any signs of aggression to humans.”
“It is such a fragile ecosystem, you get an apex predator at the top and they keep things in check but you just don’t know who you’re going to get next,” he said.
Cardwell’s residents, meanwhile, are set to hold a “memorial day” for the giant reptile, ABC reported.
“We saw Bismarck as part of our community, he was such a gentle soul as far as crocodiles can go,” Ormonde said. “We want to remember the gentle giant because he never caused any problems for anyone.”