Nature groups, experts weigh in on recent crocodile sightings

Lianne Chia Channel NewsAsia 11 Nov 17;

SINGAPORE: Crocodile sightings in areas like East Coast Park are an unusual occurrence, say nature groups and experts Channel NewsAsia spoke to.

But a loss of their natural habitat or small changes in the ecosystem could be some of the possible reasons for the recent increase in crocodile sightings around Singapore beaches.

On Wednesday (Nov 9), a crocodile was spotted at East Coast Park, prompting the National Sailing Centre to cease all water activities. Crocodiles were also sighted earlier in the year, with reports on Changi Beach and Pasir Ris Park in August alone.

Nature groups and wildlife experts say that crocodiles do exist as part of the natural ecosystem in Singapore. But the numbers are small and sightings outside of their natural habitats are rare.

Wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai pointed out that crocodiles have always been around in Singapore, but were almost wiped out by hunting and the clearance of habitats in the early part of the last century.

“By the time the 1970s and 1980s rolled around, most people didn’t know there were crocodiles in Singapore because the numbers were very low, and they were confined in tiny pockets of habitats that still existed in Singapore.”

The local population, he added, is generally confined to areas like Sungei Buloh and Kranji.

Nature enthusiast Ria Tan, who runs website WildSingapore, added that she has seen crocodiles in Sungei Buloh from far while standing on a bridge, but never while she was doing her work on the shore.

“I do a lot of surveys in Singapore water, more than 100 days a year and over 50 locations in Singapore, and I see all kinds of things,” she said.

“But I’ve never actually seen a crocodile up close ... no stepping on them, or being bitten by them or anything like that.”

LOSS OF HABITAT, SMALL CHANGES IN ECOSYSTEM POSSIBLE REASONS FOR INCREASED SIGHTINGS

Given this situation, Mr Subaraj noted that it is more likely that the crocodile spotted at East Coast is likely to have come from Johor.

“There is a lot of development going on like the Iskandar project, and there are multiple projects going on there that are unfortunately causing an impact on their natural habitats, and driving the animals out of there,” he said.

He explained that they live mainly in mangroves and river mouths, but these are also being cleared in Malaysia. “Take the Johor River and the mouth of the Johor River ... one side has been completely removed and turned into a port,” he said.

“That would have caused an impact on all the animals that live there, whether they’re crocodiles, dogs or dugongs.”

He added that the otters – well recognised and loved by Singaporeans – could also have come from Johor, but the crocodiles were “more secretive” about it.

“A few of them have wandered through and maybe went unnoticed, but this guy is unfortunate because he chose to go down East Coast Park,” he said.

“They are just looking for a new home and there is nothing at East Coast or the Bedok area that’s suitable for it, so they’ll just continue their journey and in a few days, they’ll just move on.”

Indeed, chairman of Nature Society Singapore’s Marine Conservation Group Stephen Beng noted that crocodiles are capable of travelling long distances, and have been known to ride currents in other countries. He added that even slight changes in their habitat could result in their displacement.

“These animals don’t appear suddenly at a beach for no reason,” he said. “More often than not, it’s because their habitats are threatened, and there are changes in the ecosystem as a whole.”

One example of this, he said, could be a change in temperature, caused by runoffs into the waterways.

“Things like our concretised drains and rivers ... water that flows over concrete as opposed to plants and natural forest would obviously be warmer,” he explained. “It can be little changes like this, but in the cumulative effect, it would then change the whole ecosystem.”

While he said his group prefers not to draw any conclusions about the current situation, he stressed the importance of conducting further studies and raising awareness of the various possibilities.

“On the one hand, we don’t want to lose the safety and enjoyment of our beaches and wetlands, but at the same time, the saltwater crocodile is the largest reptile we have, and it’s quite special that we have them,” he said.

“As conservationists and concerned citizens, we want to highlight changes to our environment that affects movement of animals, so I guess the best way moving forward is to study them more, and implement education programmes and management of habitat.”

AN UNUSUAL OCCURRENCE

But despite these factors, it is still uncommon for crocodiles to turn up at East Coast Park.

Mr Subaraj pointed out that the work in Johor has been going on for more than a decade, and so far, the recent sighting at East Coast is only the second crocodile that has been seen in the area.

“These crocodiles are an endangered species, so their numbers are going to be low anywhere,” he added. “So it’s a very uncommon occurrence, and people shouldn’t be worried that a whole swarm of them are going to appear one day.”

But that being said, he stressed the importance of being prudent should one really encounter a crocodile while splashing around in the waters around East Coast.

“At the moment, you should not be swimming at all,” he said. “A crocodile has just been sighted, and signs have been put up, so stay away for a few days, if not a few weeks.”

The National Parks Board had earlier said that advisory notices have been put up near the water edges in the area. It also advised visitors not to approach, provoke or feed the animal.

But should one encounter a crocodile while in the water, Mr Subaraj’s suggestion is to slowly back away and come out of the water.

“The crocodile is not going to come after you,” he said. “On the beach, they are very slow and sluggish, and they basically are just coming out to sun itself.”

WildSingapore’s Ms Tan added that in areas where there are known sightings like Sungei Buloh, it is also advisable to be alert while walking around. But she stressed that as a rule, wild animals don’t look to have interaction with people, and will do no harm if left alone.

Crocodiles, she said, are no exception.

“Like most wild animals, they just mind their own business,” she said. “And if you’re quiet, then you can observe these magnificent animals just doing their thing.”
Source: CNA/lc

No comments:

Post a Comment