KOTA KINABALU: One of the largest crocodiles in Sabah that was ever captured and killed by the Sabah Wildlife Department was 21 feet long.
“That was the biggest known crocodile in Sabah so far,” said Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) director Augustine Tuuga yesterday when asked to comment on the growing crocodile population and the increasing number of human-crocodile conflicts taking place in the State.
He recounted that the crocodile was shot dead at Sungai Lokan, Kinabatangan by staff of the SWD and that it transpired a long time ago.
Unfortunately, no photograph(s) of the crocodile was ever taken.
Since then, there has been no sighting of crocodiles that are larger than 16 feet long (five meters) in the rivers of Sabah, including that of the Kinabatangan.
“The average is 12 feet long, with most of the crocodiles below 10 feet long,” he said.
Moreover, crocodile hunters were not keen on getting the ‘big ones’, said Augustine.
“Hunters opt for the smaller ones, between six feet and 10 feet long, because the leather of the larger ones are less popular,” he added.
Augustine also commented on the rising number of crocodile attacks on human, the recent one occurring just yesterday involving a 34-year-old man, Mohd Inting.
He was attacked by a crocodile in Sg Kanibongan, Pitas, and suffered injury on his waist. At the time of writing, there was no further information except that he was being treated at the Pitas Hospital following the attack.
Throughout this year, there had been eight crocodile attacks, six of which were fatal, while two, including that of the recent attack, left the victims injured.
According to Augustine, the first human-crocodile conflict this year occurred on January 26, with the victim, Sulle Buriah, 37, injured after he was attacked by a crocodile at 5.30pm while fishing at the Jeragan Bistari plant water reservoir in Lahad Datu.
This was followed by a fatal attack on August 3 where nine-year-old Jasimal Anton was killed after a crocodile attacked him while he was bathing in a river at Kg Rancangan, Kalabakan, Tawau.
Another fatal crocodile attack occurred on August 6 involving an eight-year-old girl, Heleyanti Matacha who was bathing in the Sg Tangkarason Paitan, Sugud when she was attacked.
And on Sept 24, a 22-year-old Filipina woman, Norana Alan, was fatally attacked while she was picking oil palm fruits at Ladang Genting Mewah, Kinabatangan followed by another fatal crocodile attack on Jusri Munawir, 28, on Sept 29 after he fell into the river while fishing near Genting Bahagia Estate, Jalan Jerocco, Lahad Datu.
On October 6, 28-year-old Herry Long was fatally attacked by a crocodile while fishing in the river at Kg Langkon Baru, Kota Marudu, while on Nov 30, another man, Tiga Hari Madjani, 60, died after he was attacked by a crocodile while spearfishing at the POIC jetty in Lahad Datu.
To address the growing number of human-crocodile conflicts, Augustine said that SWD had proposed to CITES to downgrade the crocodile population in Sabah from Appendix I to Appendix II, which would allow them some quota to catch wild crocodiles for export purposes.
This, he said, was a long-term solution to the human-crocodile conflicts.
The department’s short-term measures, in case of any crocodile attack, would include culling or removal of some individuals by trapping, he said.
The last culling exercise occurred just last October following the attack on Herry Long in Kota Marudu.
“In the Kota Marudu case, we got the assistance from the kampong folks to catch the crocodiles and retrieve the victim’s (Herry Long) body…and in August, our staff killed three big crocodiles at Sungai Tangkarason, Paitan,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kapayan assemblyman Dr Edwin Bosi explained that crocodiles had always been living in big rivers such as the Kinabatangan and Segama.
“Other rivers such as Serundung in Tawau also have wild crocodiles.”
He added that human-crocodile conflict was due to the loss of riparian and source of food for the reptile.
“And people have become their food substitute,” he added.
He also claimed that the urban crocodiles such as the one found in the monsoon drain in Kepayan and walking along the Karamunsing road were probably escapees from crocodile farms along the Moyog River.
“These croc farms must be made responsible if people or livestock are killed,” he said.
He proposed that all farm crocs should have microchips for identification and that SWD must go and monitor these farms on a regular basis.
“Birth and death must be recorded. The farm will also pay for the services to capture their escaped crocs,” he said.
Altogether, there are four crocodile farms in Sabah — the Sandakan Crocodile Farm Sdn Bhd (6,772 crocodiles), Taman Buaya Tuaran Sdn Bhd (3,000 crocodiles), Suan Hong Crocodile Farm Sdn Bhd (22,000 crocodiles) and Borneo Crocodile Centre Sdn Bhd (13,600 crocodiles).