Crocodile
Illustrative image. Image Credit: Pixabay

Manila: Human need for survival has been cited as the reason why there had been a number of attacks on people along the shoreline by the saltwater crocodiles in Western Philippines’ Palawan.

In the latest attack, a 52-year-old fisherman narrowly escaped being eaten by a two-metre-long crocodile at the coastal village of Tagolango in Bataraza municipality.

Hairal Halon Jaapal was trying out a relative’s motor outrigger last November 1 and was pushing the wooden boat to deeper waters to get its engine started when a crocodile snagged his leg.

Jaapal fought off the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) by repeatedly punching the reptile for some 10 minutes until it let go of his leg, a report by Palawan News said.

The attack on Jaapal was the latest in a series of incidents involving crocodiles in Palawan.

Although saltwater crocodiles can be found in other parts of the country, Palawan has the most number due to the island’s vast expanse of mangrove areas.

Complications

Jovic Fabello spokesman of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSDS), said that from 2000 to the present, 33 attacks had been recorded in Palawan and 17 of these took place in Balabac Island which close to Bataraza.

It would have been easy to avoid attacks if it were only as simple as keeping away from crocodile areas. Fabello said: “During PCSDS’s visit to Balabac, residents narrated that they are having difficulty avoiding crocodiles because of the need for alternative means of livelihood (other than farming).”

Aside from this, he said residents do not have access to potable water and have no bridges that they can use to cross crocodile-infested rivers, he said.

Fabello said people were also forced by circumstance to go to crocodile infested areas near the rivers to do their laundry and take a bath because their houses lack access to water utilities. Students also had to wade in the waters inhabited by the reptiles to reach schools.

Most of the attacks occur during the evening and according to a fisherman in the village of Catagupan, a girl was fatally mauled by a crocodile in 2017 in this area. It is for this reason, they avoided fishing during the evening.

The fisherman also said due to the attacks, they had avoided venturing to the rivers or the sea to fish, thus putting their livelihood in jeopardy.

“Not even the crab catchers would go to the shore since every night the crocodiles would be on the prowl,” he said.

Due to the effect on their livelihood and attacks on humans, some fishermen had taken matters in their own hands and snared the reptiles despite laws banning such acts of poaching.

Over the past three months, five crocodiles had been trapped and killed in various parts of Balabac also in retribution to attacks against humans.

The saltwater crocodile had been listed as among species “critically endangered,” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (as it faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild).

Biodiversity

Experts from the non-government Crocodylus Porusus Philippines Inc (CPPI) said the presence of crocodiles in the area is indicative a healthy biodiversity conducive for the specie.

Despite its menacing appearance, it is a big help to the environment.

“Movement from crocodiles help plough the riverbed in riverside areas, allowing nutrients to get closer to the surface, where they are eaten by the fishes,” Jake Binaday of CPPI said.

Likewise, he also said that unregulated slaughter and removal of crocodiles from their natural habitat could also the reason for the increasing attacks in humans.

He said that crocodiles are “territorial” animals and that these regard humans as “intruders.”

Meljory Corvera, who is also from the CPPI, said despite their size, crocodiles have small brains and cannot distinguish from humans and animals.

Action plan

To balance the respective needs of both humans and crocodiles, the PCSDS had drafted a 10-year Action Plan to resolve the issue.

Among the reasons cited for the increasing crocodile attacks on humans are the destruction of mangrove areas, rearing of livestock in riverside areas, disposal of food and bathing near places where crocodiles live.

Central to this plan is the objective that by the year 2029, the both would be able to live in the same general area.