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Baby crocodiles at large in Broome after slipping out of Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park

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Authorities have ordered upgrades to fencing at a crocodile park in Broome after a mass escape of hatchlings, most of which are still on the run.

Key points:

  • Two out of 11 baby crocodiles that escaped from an old crocodile farm in Broome have been found
  • In a separate recent incident, a slightly older 20cm crocodile escaped and was found in a roadside drain
  • Parks and Wildlife have ordered fencing be repaired at the old site to prevent further escapes

The baby crocodiles are thought to have slipped through a fence, with two discovered by locals at nearby Cable Beach in mid-April.

Nine other hatchlings from the same nest remain unaccounted for.

In a separate incident, a slightly older crocodile — around 20 centimetres long — escaped its pen and slipped out a gate, and was found in a roadside drain.

A small crocodile hides besides a grey rock on a damp beach
One of the escaped hatchlings was found hiding in rocks at nearby Cable Beach.(Supplied: Abby Murray)

Park owner Valerie Douglas said she was installing new fencing along the park perimeter.

“Everything’s under control and we are making changes so it doesn’t happen again,” she said.

“The 11 hatchlings escaped from a nest that was missed by staff when they were collecting eggs in January, and some of them got away.

“Some of the fencing is quite old, and were a bit damaged in a cyclone a couple of years back.

“So we are paying for new fencing to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

She said the reptiles that escaped were not big enough to pose a risk to people or pets.

A shock discovery

A fence runs in front of a build, covered in weeds and with a sign saying Broome Crocodile Park
Fencing will be replaced at the old Broome Crocodile Park site, which is closed to the public, but home to hundreds of crocodiles.(ABC Kimberley: Andrew Seabourne)

The two crocodiles at Cable Beach were found last week by local women going for walks with their children.

Matilda, whose parents have asked for her surname not to be used, says she spotted the small reptile hiding next to a rock at sunset.

“When I first saw it I thought it was a lizard, but then I realised it was a crocodile,” she said.

“My mum wanted us all to stand back, and she was looking around for the mother crocodile.

“We stayed with it, because it was getting dark and we didn’t want to lose it.”

Both of the baby crocodiles found at the beach have been given a health check and returned to the Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park, which spans two large properties.

Croc parks covered by farming licence

The animals had escaped from the ‘old’ Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park, which sits on 2 hectares of prime real estate opposite Cable Beach.

The park was opened by the legendary filmmaker in 1983, as a place for tourists to gather and watch the enormous ‘salties’ feed on raw chickens and where Mr Douglas oversaw farming for crocodile skins.

It has been closed to the public since 2012, after Mr Douglas relocated the tourism side of the business to a new site 16km east of Broome and was killed in a freak car accident on the property.

An aerial view of a lush green park area, with some buildings visible
The old Broome Crocodile Park is located near Cable Beach in Broome.(ABC Kimberley: Andrew Seabourne)

There are now about 2,500 crocodiles across the two sites, which are covered by a crocodile farming licence that requires the animals to be safely secured.

The Department of Biodiversity and Cultural Attractions said in a statement that the properties were inspected annually.

“Parks and Wildlife Service is working closely with park owners … to ensure the park meets the required standards,” the statement said.

“An assessment of the park was undertaken on Friday … and recommendations were made to the park, which included repairs to sections of the mesh fence.”

Colourful history

It’s not the first time crocodiles have escaped or been stolen from the park.

In 2016, at least six small crocodiles disappeared.

Crocodile handler Dave Tapper holds a juvenile crocodile in his left hand.
One of the crocodiles that escaped in 2016 was retrieved from a swimming pool at a nearby house by crocodile handler Dave Tapper.(Supplied: Joshua Spong)

One was found killed by a car in a nearby carpark, and another was found swimming in the backyard pool of a neighbouring property.

At the time, owner Valerie Douglas said the animals were stolen during a break-in and then set free.

In October 2019 authorities were called in when a crocodile named Cinnamon went missing.

The 15-month-old animal had been regularly handled by tourists as part of daily tours, and police were unable to locate him.

Broome residents are asked to call the local office of the Parks and Wildlife Service if they see a crocodile, so staff can determine if it is an escapee or one that lives in the creek network along the coast.

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