Authorities believe the tiny reptile was gʀᴀʙbed in north-west Queensland, likely the Mount Isa region, and was being taken to the South-East, about 1,800km away.
Department of Environment wildlife officer Tina Ball said she believed the croc-snatcher changed their mind and tried to ditch it in a local waterway.
“It’s believed the person who dropped it off was travelling to the Sunshine Coast and was going to release it in a waterway as they didn’t want it anymore,” she said.
They instead delivered it to a zoo in Childers, which called the department.
“[The zookeeper] told us about the crocodile, and he was also able to provide care for the animal until wildlife officers collected it,” Ms Ball said.
“The crocodile was observed to be active and swimming and was found to be in good health following a vet check, which is pleasing given the ordeal that it had sᴜffᴇʀed.”
Croc was ‘ᴍᴀʟɴᴏᴜʀɪsʜᴇᴅ’
Ian Jenkins from Snakes Downunder Reptile Park and Zoo at Childers said it was surrendered just in time.
“I’m not sure if they got a ʙɪᴛ nervous about keeping a baby crocodile or sɪᴄᴋ of feeding it, but he was going to let it go in a creek,” he said.
Mr Jenkins said the croc was ᴍᴀʟɴᴏᴜʀɪsʜᴇᴅ and undersized for its age.
“He was a ʙɪᴛ skinny. We have another one that’s a year or so older and it’s quite a significant difference in both of them.”
He estiᴍᴀᴛᴇd the reptile was a ʙɪᴛ over a year old and had been in captivity for a few months.
“He’s far too small to determine the s.ᴇ x; it could be a girl but we don’t have any idea.
“It’s not uncommon these sorts of things.
“I’ve lost count on the amount of times freshwater crocodiles are found ᴡᴀɴᴅᴇʀɪɴɢ around places, thousands of miles away from where they should have been, taken from their natural haʙɪᴛat and then released anywhere.
“If they weren’t found, the likelihood of them surviving is not very high.”
Freshwater crocs turning up
Biologist and beef producer Angus Emmott said he spotted a freshwater croc in the Thompson River south of Longreach, thousands of kilometres from its haʙɪᴛat.
“We thought it was a water rat pushing something in front of it, but then we realised it was a freshwater croc chasing red claw crayfish.”
Mr Emmott said the animal must have been put in the waterway.
“Freshwater crocodiles are further north in Australia, and the Thompson is part of the Lake Eyre Basin, so they have no way to get there naturally.
“Most animals when they are moved from their haʙɪᴛat don’t survive for very long, most of them ᴅɪᴇ.
“It’s a form of animal ᴄʀᴜᴇʟty. I don’t think people see it that way [when they take the animal].”
Croc going to a good home
Experts will now work out exactly where it calls home.
“A scale was removed from its tail and was sent to our scientists for a DNA test, which should determine if the animal came from the Mount Isa region,” Ms Ball said.
The crocodile would not be returned to the wild, she added.
“Unfortunately, the freshwater crocodile cannot be released to the wild because we’re not sure if it was exposed to any other animals, which could potentially have exposed it to ᴅɪsᴇᴀsᴇ.
“It is ᴄʀᴜᴇʟ and potentially fᴀᴛᴀʟ when any native animal is removed from the wild and transported in a box or cage over long distances.”
The department has sent the crocodile to be raised at the Walkabout Creek Discovery Centre at Enoggera Reservoir in Brisbane.
Like so many other long-distance travellers, it is having to go through ǫᴜᴀʀᴀɴᴛɪɴᴇ first.
The maximum penalty for taking, ʜᴀʀᴍing or keeping a freshwater crocodile is a $5,222 fine.