Pasir Ris crocodile: If not a threat, don't trap, most locals say

Ang Yiying, Straits Times 9 Aug 08;

SINGAPORE has at least two 'permanent resident' crocodiles, which make their home in the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

The National Parks Board (NParks) has confirmed identifying these crocodiles, which are usually spotted in the water or mudflats, out of reach of visitors.

NParks has taken a non-interventionist approach to its pair of 'resident' crocodiles. It says it will act only if the reptiles move on the boardwalks or the walking trails in the park. But so far, it has not needed to take any action.

At Sungei Buloh, signs are in place to alert visitors to the presence of crocodiles. Visitors are also advised to keep to designated trails.

Few mangrove swamps, which support the survival of crocodiles, now exist in Singapore. The largest designated wetland reserve here is Sungei Buloh. It is not clear if the two crocodiles at Sungei Buloh are the only ones to have made their home there.

Photography enthusiast Jeffery Teo, 37, has had 20 sightings of crocodiles over the past two years, though he could not be sure how many crocodiles there actually were.

Experts say the recent sighting of a 1m long crocodile at Pasir Ris Park, which was first photographed on Aug 3, is unlikely to indicate the presence of a family of crocodiles there.

Mr Francis Lim, curator at the Singapore Zoo, said that baby crocodiles, which are 30cm at birth, are usually eaten by predators and have less than 1 per cent chance of survival in the wild.

Even a 1m crocodile can be eaten by large monitor lizards and pythons.

Mr Biswajit Guha, assistant director of zoology at the Singapore Zoo, added: 'For the social context, they don't stick to family groups.'

Reacting to news of traps being set at Pasir Ris Park, nature lovers said Singapore's wild crocodiles should be left alone, unless their presence poses a risk.

Mr Peter Loh, 44, who owns a shop at Downtown East in Pasir Ris, near where the specimen was seen, said: 'Being a nature lover, I feel that they should be left alone. Only if they are going to be in a site where they pose a danger, the authorities can consider removing them.'

Mr Adrian Pereira, 61, a Pasir Ris resident, said it was about time 'we educate people to learn to live with and accept animals', especially since Singapore is developing its waterways into centres of recreation.

Another call for public education came from Mr R. Subaraj, who chairs the Nature Society of Singapore's Vertebrate Study Group. He said people should understand that estuarine or saltwater crocodiles are native to the region.

But he added that the existence of a crocodile in a place like Pasir Ris, where 'the ecosystem is too small and too close to places inhabited by local population', would always be a concern to the public.

Madam Nancy Huang, 35, a freelance graphic designer, who was near the Pasir Ris Park mangrove area with her seven-year-old son, had not heard of the crocodile sighting.

She said in Mandarin: 'Children may be very curious and very active and if they go near the crocodile, it's hard to tell what will happen. They may be eaten up. '

Three crocs seized in last two years
Ang Yiying, Straits Times 9 Aug 08;

THE Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) has seized three illegally kept crocodiles in the last two years, including two from HDB flats.

The two high-rise-living crocodiles were kept in aquarium tanks. One was a caiman crocodile seized in 2006, and the other, a saltwater crocodile seized last year. Both were 40cm long.

The owner of the caiman had bought it, while the owner of the saltwater crocodile got it as a gift from a friend.

The third crocodile seized last year was a 1.5m-long saltwater crocodile kept on a fish farm. The owner adopted it after catching it from a drain on the farm premises.

The offenders were fined between $500 and $1,500, with the severity of the penalties depending on how endangered the seized animals were.

Mr Gerald Neo, AVA's senior wildlife enforcement officer, said confiscated wild animals may be sent to designated centres like the Singapore Zoo, Jurong BirdPark or Underwater World on Sentosa. Of the three seized crocodiles, two were sent to the zoo and one died.

Keeping wild animals without a licence is punishable under the Wild Animals and Birds Act. The maximum fine is $1,000. Those who keep endangered species may be charged under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act and may be fined up to $50,000.

The AVA said it does not issue licences for keeping crocodiles as pets. Crocodiles are also protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, to which Singapore is a signatory.

Other illegally kept and traded wildlife that have been seized by the AVA include star tortoises, iguanas, tarantulas, scorpions, hedgehogs and monkeys.

The AVA receives two to three tip-offs each month on suspected illegal trading and keeping of wildlife.

Those with reliable information may call the AVA on 6227-0670. All information will be kept confidential.

A crocodile hunter's tales
Meet Robin Lee, the 'official' trapper of stray reptiles
Ang Yiying, Straits Times 9 Aug 08;

MEET Singapore's crocodile hunter, Mr Robin Lee, 33. On normal days, he manages Long Kuan Hung Crocodile Farm in Kranji, which was started by his father.

But when the alert for a wild crocodile sighting is sounded, he goes into stakeout mode and moves in to trap the reptile.

He has caught two of these reptiles since 2000, the bigger one measuring 3.2m and the other, 2.5m. Both females, they are are now among the 8,500 'residents' at his farm.

He told The Straits Times that he is on standby, following the recent sighting of a metre-long specimen in the waters of Sungei Tampines near Paris Ris beach.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority confirmed that Mr Lee is the one agencies turn to for help in catching crocodiles. Mr Lee said of his mission: 'I just try to remove the animal from the public because I have the experience. I don't want accidents to happen.'

Having practically grown up with saltwater crocodiles, he has a healthy respect for these largest of living reptiles, which can hit lengths of 8m in the wild.

He first met them as a child, when he used to feed them on his father's farm. By the age of 16, he was collecting eggs from the nests of the farmed crocodiles.

'I don't feel scared at all. You get used to them,' he said.

When he turned 20, he started working full-time with his father on the farm, which breeds the reptiles for their skins and meat.

An only son, with two older sisters not involved in the family business, Mr Lee made crocodiles his career in 1993, just when his parents were deciding on relocating the farm from Seletar East to its present Kranji site.

How did he, as a crocodile farmer, come to take on a hunter's role?

Mr Lee would rather not say too much about how the authorities first approached him, some time in the last decade.

He explained that he launches a hunt only after collecting enough information on sightings, so he can be sure that a particular reptile has indeed moved into a particular location.

The hunt that ended with the capture of the 3.2m specimen was captured on film by photography enthusiast Jeffery Teo, 37. The pair declined to have the pictures from that encounter published.

Mr Lee recalled that the crocodile was still, submerged in the water near the edge of a pond. He slipped a rope into the water and looped it around its neck.

He also used 'equipment' which he is secretive about. The contraption was designed by his now-69-year-old father. He said: 'In roping and with the equipment, there is no direct contact. You don't need to jump on the crocodile.'

But the job requires full concentration and cold-blooded instinct honed by experience in dealing with these beasts.

'I know how to handle crocodiles. I have been handling them my whole life.'

But he added: 'The moment you lose respect for them, accidents will happen.'

He said he has never been bitten, but to this day, even after close to 20 years with them, his heart rate speeds up when he collects eggs at the farm.

'Females are most ferocious after nesting. They charge at you to kill you.'

The eggs go into incubators for about 82 days. When the nestlings hatch, he helps some of the babies to emerge by cracking the shells.

Mr Lee, who is married and father to a 21/2-year-old son, said he does not expect the boy to share his passion.

'I made the commitment and it's something I will fulfil. My passion is there.'