Poachers may have killed Barney

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 18 May 14;

The mystery of the 400kg crocodile found dead at Kranji Reservoir about a month ago may have been solved, at least partially.

Poachers could be to blame, and they are at large, said national water agency PUB.

The reptile, believed to be one of the largest wild specimens here, was found dead with a metal rod in its eye and a large fishing hook lodged in its mouth, according to the agency's authorised crocodile handler.

It is not known why the illegal hunters did not make off with their giant catch.

"PUB has been investigating this as a case of poaching but has yet to be able to identify the culprits," it said in a joint statement with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) yesterday.

The 3.6m-long saltwater crocodile, nicknamed Barney by anglers, was found dead on April 18.

Its body was disposed of at a nearby farm. Long Kuan Hung Crocodile Farm, the only crocodile farm here, said it did not receive the carcass.

A handful of wild crocodiles have been found living in the waters around Singapore's north-western coastline in recent years.

PUB said there has been a history of crocodile sightings at the Kranji Reservoir area.

Since 1989, PUB has authorised handlers to capture the reptiles alive and hand them to a crocodile farm for safekeeping.

This was done to prevent the crocodiles from endangering workers and visitors to Kranji Reservoir, said PUB's director of catchment and waterways Tan Nguan Sen. Twelve crocodiles have been caught in the area since then - the last one in 2006.

Following The Sunday Times' report on Barney's death and disposal earlier this month, readers and netizens questioned why the crocodile's cause of death had not been looked into earlier, and why its body had not been preserved and donated to a research institute or a museum, given its size.

Strix Wildlife Consultancy director Subaraj Rajathurai noted that an autopsy was especially important since the body had been found on reservoir grounds that double as a nature area, where poaching could cause serious harm to native wildlife.

"Having an autopsy and making the results public would have prevented wild speculation about the crocodile's death," he said.

And in a letter to The Sunday Times Letters page on May 11, Dr Edmund Lam asked for clarification on the authorities' usual procedure when faced with a carcass "of an animal belonging to a significant wildlife species".

PUB and AVA stressed that it is dangerous and illegal to hunt crocodiles and other wild animals.

The poaching of wild animals carries a maximum fine of $1,000 and forfeiture of the animal.

The public should call AVA's hotline at 1800-476-1600 to report any suspected poaching activities.