Sydney - Police reportedly found human remains on Tuesday in the search for a 12-year-old boy snatched by a crocodile in northern Australia, and scaled back operations to a body-recovery mission.
Police would not go into detail, but acting commander Michael White said they had found “evidence within the search area which strongly indicates the boy has died from the crocodile attack”.
“Further DNA testing will be conducted to confirm the identification,” White said.
“No specifics will be given in relation to the trauma or type of evidence located out of respect for the family.”
“This is now an investigation for the Northern Territory coroner and a brief will be prepared.”
Local media reports said the “evidence” cited by White was human remains.
Police on the scene said the operation had now entered a “search and recovery” stage following confirmation of the boy's death.
“We're looking for a body at the moment, it's very sad,” a spokeswoman said.
Three crocodiles have been shot and cut open under a shoot-to-kill order for any crocodile larger than two metres sighted around Mudginberri Outstation, which is about 200km east of Darwin in the Kakadu National Park.
The boy was taken while swimming with friends in the Mudginberri Billabong on Sunday. A second boy, aged 15, managed to fight the creature off and received three stitches for deep bites on his right arm.
His wounds led rangers to estimate that the animal responsible for the attack was between two and three metres long.
The attack has rocked the small Mudginberri community of about 50 people who live outside the mining town of Jabiru.
“We are a very big family and a very close family,” an aunt of the missing boy told the Northern Territory News.
“Everyone is shattered.”
The attack has sparked calls for a crocodile cull by the local indigenous people, the Mirarr.
Saltwater crocodiles can grow up to seven metres long, weigh more than a ton, and are a common feature of Australia's tropical north.
Their numbers have increased steadily since the introduction of protection laws in 1971, with government estimates putting the population at between 75 000 and 100 000.
Australian researchers launched the world's first crocodile attack database, CrocBITE, last month, hoping to firm up anecdotal reports that harmful or fatal incidents are increasing.
Sunday's attack in Kakadu is the 11th fatality recorded so far this year by the CrocBITE team, which is based at Australia's Charles Darwin University.
The most recent death in Australia was in August last year, when a man was taken by a 4.7m crocodile as he swam across the Northern Territory's Mary River.