SYDNEY: A search was suspended Monday for a nine-year-old boy taken by a four metre (13 feet) crocodile in northern Australia, which police said was being fed by the local community.
The child was swimming with a group of people at an Aboriginal community near Port Bradshaw, 80 kilometres south of the town of Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory, on Saturday when he was grabbed.
Adults threw spears at the animal but it responded by dragging the boy into deeper water and no sign has been seen of him since.
It was the second recent attack on a child after a seven-year-old girl went missing while swimming with her family last month, also in Australia's north. A hunt resulted in a crocodile being shot and human remains were found inside it.
Northern Territory police said that in the latest incident the crocodile had lived side by side with the Nhulunbuy community for many years.
“The croc was believed to be very old and the community had interacted with it in the past,” a police spokesman told AFP.
“From time to time they threw it food, or left fish carcasses out. Not a wise move.
“Our local officer in Nhulunbuy said the croc had been known to the community for 20 years,” the spokesman added.
Police said late Monday their search, which involved local rangers and volunteers, had been called off.
“While there were initial sightings of the crocodile believed to be responsible for the attack, no further sightings have been confirmed over the last two days,” said Superintendent Michael White.
“This is a tragic outcome for the tiny community and reinforces the threats people face in top end waterways.”
Saltwater crocodiles, which can grow up to seven metres long and weigh more than a tonne, are a common feature of Australia's tropical north.
They have been protected since the 1970s and their numbers have increased steadily since, along with the number of human encounters.
Adam Britton, a Darwin-based crocodile specialist, told ABC radio it might be time for a new crocodile management plan, given the explosion in numbers.
“Areas where people haven't seen crocodiles for decades, they're suddenly starting to see animals in these places,” he said.
Britton said any management plan should be more than just removing crocodiles from danger areas, which is the current practice.
“It's also about educating people and educating the local community about the dangers of crocodiles, train the local rangers, the local community to actually start taking their own proactive steps towards making the place safer for people,” he said.