The saltwater crocodile is classified as Lower Risk/least concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
It is listed on CITES Appendix I (except the populations of Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, which are included in Appendix II).
Red List Category & Criteria: Lower Risk/least concern ver 2.3
Year Published: 1996
Date Assessed: 1996-08-01
Countries: Australia; Bangladesh; Brunei Darussalam; Cambodia; India; Indonesia; Malaysia; Myanmar; Palau; Papua New Guinea; Philippines; Solomon Islands; Sri Lanka; Vanuatu; Viet Nam
The saltwater crocodile inhabits large shallow bodies of freshwater or saltwater. The species prefers warm, tropical regions of the earth. It usually spends the wet season in freshwater rivers, streams and swamps and before migrating downstream as water becomes more and more scarce with the onset of the dry season.
Since this species can travel long distances at sea it sometimes travels along the coasts of other countries and has for instance been reported in the Sea of Japan, Fiji and Iwo Jima. The ability of adult saltwater crocodiles to travel across seas explains its wide distribution and why it is present on such remote islands as Vanuatu, Palau and the Solomon Islands.
The saltwater crocodile is one of the three crocodilians found in India, the other two being the more widespread mugger crocodile and the gharial.
In northern Australia (which includes the northernmost parts of the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and Queensland), the saltwater crocodile is thriving, particularly in the multiple river systems near Darwin, where large individuals of more than 5 metres (16.4 feet) in length are not uncommon. The saltwater crocodile population in Australia is estimated at between 100,000 and 200,000 adults.
Saltwater crocodiles were once present throughout the island of Sri Lanka but remain mostly within protected areas such as Yala National Park, which also has a large population of mugger crocodiles.
The saltwater crocodile is an apex predator capable of catching prey on dry land as well as in the water. Juveniles take smaller items such as insects, amphibians, crustaceans and fish, while adults also take reptiles, birds and mammals. They can also attack and kill domestic livestock and even humans.
The larger the animal grows, the greater the variety of animals it includes in its diet, although relatively small prey is taken even as an adult. The largest prey taken by saltwater crocodiles are water buffalos and gaurs, which can weigh over a ton. Taking such prey is normally only attempted by large adult males. Despite being capable of overpowering virtually any animal that ventures close enough, comparatively small prey make up an important part of the diet even for big crocodiles.
Where the range of the saltwater crocodile overlaps with that of the Australian freshwater crocodile, the saltwater crocodile outcompetes and sometimes kills the smaller species.
Stones and pebbles may also be ingested, to help grind food in the stomach.
Saltwater crocodiles have the strongest bite of any animal today and a large adult male can crush a full-grown water buffalo’s skull between its jaws. A 5.2 metre (17 feet)-long saltwater crocodile has been confirmed as having the highest bite force ever recorded for an animal in a laboratory setting, with a bite force value of 16,000 N (3,700 lbf). Despite the strong muscles to close the jaw, crocodiles have extremely small and weak muscles to open the jaw. The jaws of a crocodile can be securely shut with several layers of duct tape.
The saltwater crocodile is now on the brink of extinction in many South-East Asian countries. Illegal hunting still persists in some areas, with protection in some countries considered ineffective, and trade is often difficult to monitor and control over such a vast range.
The commercial value of the hide is very high (the most valuable of any crocodile species) and harvesting of saltwater crocodiles for the commercial skin trade for luxury goods is one of the greatest conservation challenges.
Habitat destruction continues to be a major problem. In northern Australia, much of the nesting habitat of the saltwater crocodile is susceptible to trampling by feral water buffalo, although an intensive national buffalo eradication program has now reduced this problem considerably.
Loss of human life has led to a degree of antipathy towards the species, making conservation measures more difficult to implement. The Northern Territory of Australia (NT) Government response was to introduce a public education program to educate and inform the public about crocodiles and to initiate a problem crocodile program to remove crocodiles from areas where the majority of people lived.
The future of the species seems to be secure at the moment, given the large population bases in Australia and Papau New Guinea. However, it is likely that the range of the species will be severely reduced through depletion of many small populations in South-East Asian countries unless management programs can be implemented.
Est. wild population: 200,000 to 300,000
Main conservation threats: Habitat destruction, illegal hunting and pollution