KOTA KINABALU: Being caught and sadly, shot dead is the end often heard when there is a crocodile attack in this country, but it is not a solution to the human-wildlife conflict when a series of attacks still occur, especially daunting for the people who live in the animal’s riverine habitat.

Hence, the Tuaran Crocodile Park near here opens the doors of cooperation to any public or private institution to carry out research to identify the best way to control the crocodile population and find effective management to deal with human-crocodile conflict.

Its manager Engalbert Awing, 43, said the development of a crocodile conservation centre in the state is one of the best steps to overcome the issue which, apart from the role of controlling the population, the centre seems to also be able to play a role in harvesting of the apex predator.

He said crocodiles in Sabah have the potential to become a tourist attraction and also get commercialised in the manufacturing industry if culling of the animal population is permitted to produce leather products from its hide while the meat is used for medicine, but all these need to be done in a controlled manner under the supervision of the authorities (Todate Sabah has no hunting policy while Sarawak is still the only state which started licensed crocodile hunting in 2017 under CITES Appendix II, moved from Appendix I in 2016).

“I have been working as a manager at this Crocodile Park since 2018 and this breeding experience gave me the perception that mere killing of these reptiles without further action is not the best way to stop crocodile attacks on the populace.

“On the contrary, a study needs to be done so that we can identify why such attacks happen, then take steps to ensure that they do not recur. After that, we can find a way to use this wildlife as a source of income to improve the socio-economics of the population,” he told Bernama.

Sharing his experience in handling crocodiles in the park, estimated at 2,000 since it opened in 2005, Engalbert said this aggressive wildlife is near-impossible to tame even if they are nurtured from day one of hatching.

“From the very first day of a hatchling, a crocodile already has the instinct to attack and bite, it cannot be tamed until it grows into an adult crocodile, not to mention growing up in its original habitat,” he said, adding that crocodiles can jump up to four metres high and are more aggressive when in the water.

Engalbert said the tourism-based crocodile park and the information centre is home to the oldest crocodile at 80 years old, measuring 5.18 metres in length and weighing 1.3 tonnes, while the care of an adult crocodile is not difficult because it eats two or three times a week while new hatchlings require close care.

“Hungry predators are usually more aggressive and when fed six chickens can survive for a week to a month if there is not enough food,” he said, adding that female crocodiles will lay 35 to 45 eggs when the mating (and egg-laying) season arrives from January to July.

Meanwhile, Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said that since 2019 until now, a total of 117 crocodiles have been shot dead in the state, with 52 kills recorded in Lahad Datu followed by Sandakan (28), Kinabatangan (seven), Tawau (11) ) and the West Coast (19).

He said in the same period, the number of crocodiles that died in Lahad Datu was 14, Sandakan (three), Kinabatangan (nine), Tawau (11) and West Coast (five) while five were caught in Lahad Datu, 21 in Tawau and one on the West Coast.

Augustine said based on a three-year survey from 2017 to 2019, a total of 2,886 crocodiles inhabiting the rivers in Sabah were recorded and of that number, 1,386 were found in the Kinabatangan River.

“Most of the reptiles that inhabit the rivers are of the species Crocodylus Porosus (the most agressive of all species) or better known locally as the Copper Crocodile,“ he said.

According to media reports, this year alone there have been several attacks by the man-eating beast including in Tawau on July 23, where the body of Addi Bangsa, 60, was found in the stomach of a reptile weighing over 800 kilogrammes which was believed to have devoured the victim when he was boarding his boat to catch fish at 4 am.

On Oct 24, at Ladang Maisang Sime Darby Sukau in Kinabatangan, the body of a man believed to have been mauled by a crocodile was found about 500 metres from the spot where the victim was reported missing while washing clothes and bathing on the banks of the Kinabatangan River.

Whereas on Sept 23, Yusri Dulpi, 20, went missing after a crocodile snatched him at Mantanani jetty, Kota Belud at about 10.30 pm where the victim and his friend were fishing. - Bernama

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