Malaysia: Seeking ways to keep crocodile numbers in check

The Star 29 Jul 12;

IN recent years, there have been numerous reports of crocodile attacks on unsuspecting villagers in the rivers of Sarawak.

According to the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) Protected Areas and Biodiversity Conservation senior manager Oswald Braken Tisen, the crocodile population in the state has been on the increase over the last 20 years.

He describes it as a recovery stage for the reptile, scientifically known as Crocodileodylus Porosus. It is also known as the estuarine or Indo-Pacific crocodile or saltwater crocodile.

This species is one of the largest and most ferocious of all other known crocodile species alive today.

“According to the Australian authorities, we in Sarawak are now facing what they (Australians) were facing some 50 years ago,” he says in an interview with Sunday Star. Australia's crocodile population is now estimated to comprise 200,000 adult Crocodileodylus Porosus.

Braken adds that in 20 years' time, Sarawak's rivers, like Australia's, will be heavily populated by the reptile.

He says that the SFC's first section survey in 1984 on crocodile population in Sarawak rivers indicated that the average number of crocodiles then was 0.054 per kilometre of river.

“But the latest section survey along the rivers in Bako reveals that there are now up to four crocodiles per kilometre of river,” he says, while stressing that Sarawak has many long rivers.

He adds that with the increasing population of crocodile, there is bound to be human-crocodile conflicts.

A few suggestions have been brought forward to curb the numbers, including relocating the crocodiles to an uninhabited river in a nature reserve.

But he says this would be pointless as crocodiles have a “homing” habit and they would eventually find their way back to where they came from, as a study in Australia has proven.

Another proposal is culling the reptiles.

At the moment, Braken says, Crocodileodylus Porosus is listed in Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits harvesting the reptiles for international trade.

Apart from that, the Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998 also classifies the crocodiles as protected. Killings are only allowed if the crocodiles are threatening the lives of humans.

For culling to be allowed for international trade purposes, the crocodile will have to be downlisted to Appendix 2. Before that, Malaysia has to demonstrate a survey and management programme that shows the population of crocodiles in the country is high.

“We have to prove that the recovery trend of the crocodiles is not temporary,” says Braken.

Demak Laut assemblyman Dr Hazland Abang Hipni believes people living in the Bako area could capitalise on the economic potential brought about by the rise in crocodile population to better improve their livelihood.

“About 30 years ago, the whole stretch of Bako River had fewer than 10 crocodiles but now there are five to six for every kilometre,” he says.

Dr Hazland, however, points out that the crocodile's population is still manageable and the people can co-exist with the animals by being more cautious when crossing the river in boats.

He says conflicts between people and crocodiles are inevitable as both share the same living area but better management planning and installing of safety measures could help reduce attacks by the reptiles.

For a start, he says, boatmen should increase safety measures on their boats such as by installing metal railings on both sides.

Meanwhile, Braken suggests that a community-based tourism activity on crocodile watching be done.

“In Australia, there are a lot of community-based tourism programmes where tourists are brought to a crocodile habitat to watch and even feed the reptiles,” he says.