Crocodile attacks: To cull or not to cull
By Patricia Hului
With a second suspected crocodile attack in shallow waters off the coast within 30 days, members of the public were advised to reduce activities on the beach particularly in Santubong.
The first suspected attack happened on Dec 12 last year when Johor-born Nurul Wazieyana Mohd Yusuf disappeared at Pantai Pandak beach during an outing with friends.
The second suspected victim was 16-year-old Raziman Razali who was discovered by the sea at Kampung Santubong last Tuesday (Jan 12) after he went missing the day before.
On Facebook, crocodile attacks sparked a discussion among Sarawakians on how to deal with this issue.
Iswandy Cosmas Hee suggested we needed to allocate a hunting season for crocodiles, maybe one to three months out of the year.
Another user Hamdan Santacruz said precaution alone was not enough and wanted the state government to hunt and kill the over-population of crocodiles in Sarawak.
Culling to be stepped up
Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) soon enough announced that crocodile culling would be stepped up in the state.
Culling is an effort to reduce the population of a wild animal, in this case crocodiles, by selective slaughter.
The culling programme would be stepped up in the following Crocodile Removal Zones (CRZ) namely Satok Bridge waters up to the Barrage, Pasir Panjang-Pasir Pandak waters; resort beaches of the Damai Peninsula, Santubong; Telok Assam, Telok Lakei, Telok Takor and Telok Pandan Kecil of Bako National Park.
Last year, SFC culled ten crocodiles from the Kuching, 12 from Miri, eight from Sibu and two from the Bintulu region.
But what provokes crocodile attacks in the first place?
According to crocodile expert and researcher Australian Grahame Webb, the reason is ‘almost exclusively feeding.’
“Your saltwater crocodiles are some of the biggest in the world and they just eat prey the size of people,” said Webb through an e-mail interview. “Furthermore, in hot times when their metabolic rate is up, they will need more food than when it is cool- if it ever is in Sarawak. So there is seasonality in attacks.”
When asked whether culling was an effective method to reduce crocodiles attacks, Webb who is also the chairman of the IUCN- Species Survival Commission (SSC) Crocodile Specialist Group said, “Let me state off by saying, there is no easy answer to this problem! No “silver bullet’”
Webb shared his experience in Australian Northern Territory: “In the wild areas where crocodiles are abundant we allow eggs and some animals to be harvested annually, on a sustainable basis, which are mostly purchased by farms, so that landowners can make some money from the crocodiles.
“That is, that the successful conservation programme is not at the expense of rural people having to put up with them for nothing.”
The Director of Wildlife Management International explained that culling the whole population may not improve safety but reducing the population in areas where there is a high probability of attack did help solve the problem.
He explained that culling almost needs to be part of the solution for this human-crocodile conflict and stressed that it needed to be ‘strategic’ culling rather than reducing the whole population everywhere.
He cited Florida as an example, explaining, “With alligators, they remove 6,000 animals a year because they are nuisance animals in particular areas and the majority of the wild population remains stable.”
Public awareness key to public safety
Besides culling, Webb said public education was a critical way of making people aware.
He shared an advertisement from the Northern Territority specifically advising the indigenous folk who live in crocodile-prone areas to be ‘Crocwise’.
“Many of the older folk now grew up when crocodile numbers were depleted and may have lost traditional knowledge about how to avoid being attacked. So this ad is focused on them,” Webb said.
In Sarawak, SFC conducted a ‘3M Buaya Programme’ public awareness programme on safe co-existence with crocodiles.
Sarawak Forest Department director Sapuan Ahmad on Jan 15 suggested that Kuching Wetland National Park be converted into a crocodile sanctuary.
Additionally, Sapuan said with the sanctuary, it would be easier for the department to move crocodiles from other areas to the sanctuary and control their population.
Will the combination of culling and public awareness programmes stem the human-crocodile conflicts?