Missing Australian man feared eaten by crocodile

By Kristen Gelineau, AP

SYDNEY, Australia — Police and wildlife officials searched a murky river in Australia’s tropical north Thursday for signs of a camper authorities suspect was killed by a crocodile. Arthur Booker, 62, of Brisbane, hasn’t been seen since Tuesday when he left the campsite where he and his wife Doris had been vacationing to check a crab pot on the bank of the Endeavour River. The river, north of Cooktown in Queensland state, is home to several giant saltwater crocodiles. Searchers later found ominous clues: Booker’s video camera was lying on the riverbank. The line to his crab pot had been severed. And nearby, there were scrape marks in the mud. On Tuesday, police found Booker’s watch and a sandal near the riverbank. On Wednesday, they found his other sandal a short distance upstream. While anything could have happened to Booker — whom family members have described as an avid camper and Vietnam veteran — a crocodile attack is investigators’ top theory, a Queensland state police spokeswoman said Thursday. “That’s the main suspicion,” said the spokeswoman, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity. “It is crocodile country.”

A survey taken of the river in 2007 showed 11 saltwater crocodiles living in its waters. Since 1971, there have been 74 crocodile attacks in Australia — 22 of which have been fatal, said Charlie Manolis, chief scientist at Crocodylus Park in the northern city of Darwin. The last fatality took place in 2006, when an 8-year-old girl was snatched from a riverbank in a remote region of the country’s Northern Territory. Most male crocodiles grow to around 16 feet (5 meters), though they can occasionally reach lengths of up to 23 feet (7 meters), Manolis said. Eighty percent of attacks occur in Australia between August and March, the warmest time of the year, though Manolis was quick to add that “any time is dangerous.” The incident prompted calls by some — including Queensland lawmaker Bob Katter — to launch mass killings of the creatures. “And if there is any doubt as to which crocodile it is, they should shoot every crocodile in that area… take out the lot,” Katter wrote in an opinion piece Thursday in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. But Queensland Environment Minister Andrew McNamara told reporters in Brisbane that calls for a cull were “misplaced and insensitive in the extreme.” “I suppose we always are aghast when nature out-competes us,” Franklin said. “But we have to learn to live alongside these creatures, whether they’re crocodiles or sharks.”