THE snapping of a crocodile’s jaws as it grabs hold of its food is more than just a mealtime sound because the reptile commands respect – from its powerful jaws and its survival instincts.
It has been years since I last set foot in Jong’s Crocodile Farm and Zoo near Siburan town, and recently I revisited the place to escape the hustle and bustle of the urban streets and take some time off after the hectic schedule of the parliamentary election.
The 50-year-old farm, about 30 minutes’ drive from the city, was founded by Yong Kian Sen and his wife Bong Kui Lian.
A few days before the visit, I read comments from the latest visitors to the farm for updates. Tagging along was my five-year-old, who always gets very excited seeing a real crocodile.
Admission tickets are sold at the arrival hall and different rates are charged for domestic and foreign visitors.
The arrival hall is pleasantly decorated with various crocodile-themed items to prime visitors for what’s to come.
Oddly enough, there is a mannequin, dressed up in ‘crocodile costume’ right next to the exit of a souvenir shop, named after the once notorious Batang Lupar man-eater – Bujang Senang.
After taking some photos for Facebook, we collected our tickets and proceeded to the crocodile museum, where the centre of attraction is the skull of Bujang Senang, kept in a glass case with a slot at the top right corner for visitors to drop in money for a charitable fund.
Besides the Bujang Senang skull, there are also a three-foot crocodile taxidermy mount, several crocodile eggs, and a nest on display.
As we were surrounded by several grotesque photos of crocodile victims over the years, it was no place for my young son to dwell any longer and we made a hasty exit to continue our visit.
Along a corridor called the Visitor’s Walkway, we were pleasantly surprised to see around 50 baby crocodiles, kept in a terrarium, which, I presume, are bred at the farm itself.
A few steps away is a former bird park with several terrariums and aquariums.
Among the animals I managed to point out to my son during our walkabout were two pythons and a few turtles. There is a collection of uncommon animals in this section and it would be useful to put up a sign, providing basic information of each animal.
Looking into the old aviary, I tried picking out birds among the bamboo structures inside a giant cage. Instead of chirping birds, I discovered the aviary is now home to a furry quadruped with an overgrown snout, resembling a ferret.
Further up the corridor, two giant crocodiles called Bujang Sudin and Pak Indo could be seen in two separate enclosures under a man-made shade with nary a care in the world, aside, perhaps, the searing afternoon heat.
As I was looking in awe of the two giant reptiles, as if on cue, a voice came over a nearby loudspeaker, informing visitors that the daily feeding demonstration would begin shortly.
Together with other families and several groups of visitors, we headed to Pond 3 where the feeding demonstration was scheduled to start at 3pm.
In the distance, I could see two farm workers heaving gunny sacks filled with pieces of meat and fish onto a trolley as they headed to a wooden platform at the feeding location.
The feeding demonstration soon got underway amidst cries of ‘wah’ and ‘wow’ almost every time the crocs’ powerful jaws clamped shut to rip off the meat dangled just above them.
At one corner, a female crocodile crawled out of her nest, willingly leaving it unguarded to join in the feeding frenzy.
As most of us visitors don’t have Steve Irwin’s knowledge about crocodiles, we just watched in silence, riveted by the sight of hungry crocs leaping out of the water, pushing and shoving with their claw-ended limbs, and thrashing with their powerful tails to grab their afternoon meals suspended from a string amidst the ferocity of snapping jaws.
After 30 minutes, when the demonstration started to look repetitive and the initial excitement had worn off, everyone gradually left for the freshwater pond to watch yet another feeding demonstration.
This time, visitors were closer to the action as the farm workers threw chunks of meat into the pond teeming with several species of fish, including the arapaima.
From a school of giant (shark) catfish, a dark form slowly emerged out of the murky depths to reveal the head of a giant arapaima, making the other fish look much smaller in comparison.
As soon as both feeding demonstrations were over, my son and I toured the other areas where animals such as sun bears, iguanas, peacocks, and bearcats are kept in their pens.
Another of the farm’s attractions is the Freshwater Malayan Gharial or Tomistoma crocodile, a rare species of freshwater crocodile, found mainly inhabiting island swamps and river systems.
According to a documentary, Tomistoma crocodiles are not as dangerous as their saltwater cousins or salties, but will attack if provoked.
After splurging on ice cream and drinks at the canteen, it was time to go home.