Culling crocs: The beginning of the end

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The columnist hails the government’s crocodile-removal operation as good news for people living in the catchment of Sarawak River. — Bernama photo

IT has been some time since I stopped agitating for the culling of the man-eating crocodiles in many rivers in Sarawak.

At a seminar on wildlife that I attended – it was during the time of the late Pehin Sri Adenan Satem as the chief minister of Sarawak, I forgot the exact date – I got involved in a wild argument with some environmentalists when I proposed that the state government should initiate a policy of regular culling of the reptiles, not just ‘if and when necessary’.

Systematic and constant culling would eventually reduce the number of the vermin, I had argued. Even then, 10 years ago, there were already too many crocodiles in Sarawak, more than necessary to satisfy the egos of the good folks who wanted to protect wildlife, but who did not depend on the rivers for a living.

Some of the people living along our waterways for generations had never seen a crocodile before. They now have seen a few, or heard about occasional sightings, and more and more frequently, they have all heard of crocodile attacks on riverside dwellers.

Headline news!

In the past, the policy of the government was to protect the species known as the estuarine Crocodylus porosus or ‘Buaya katak’, and ‘Buaya jujulong’ (false gharial / Tomistoma schlegelii) from extinction in Malaysia.

The government of Malaysia is a signatory to the international treaty known as ‘The Washington Convention’ or CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora) effective from July 1, 1975.

Our darling ‘buaya katak’ and ‘buaya jejulung’ were classified as the ‘totally protected species’, until recently. Now they are no longer totally protected – they may be caught for sale if you possess a licence.

When the treaty was being prepared, the drafters had ‘inadvertently forgotten’, I assume, to include Sarawakians (generally classified as Homo sapiens), as ‘a totally protected species’.

That must be the reason why we were also excluded from protection from the danger posed by crocodiles in Sarawak by the drafters of the Wild Life Protection Bill 1998, which the Legislative Assembly happily passed into law.

At last, after a number of sightings and several cases of losses of precious human lives, the villagers living by Sarawak River and users of the riverine transportation, will soon be safe from attacks by the man-eating ones, at least.

The other type, the ‘Jejulung’ (Tomistoma schlegelii), I am told, is not keen on human flesh.

Anyway, I don’t trust ‘Tomi’ either!

The government’s move to ‘remove’ (using the word in the media report) is good news for people living in the catchment of Sarawak River.

What about the rest of us? The lower Batang Lupar and the Sterap, Saribas, Samarahan and Pasir Pandak, are veritable crocodile havens!

In the past, the policy of the Sarawak government was to allow the catching of ‘the murder suspect’ each time there had been an attack. A licence to kill was required before you could take revenge on the murderer of your relative. You would be committing an offence without that permission, issued by the Wild Life Warden.

Imagine the tragedy you would have to suffer from when you were in the dock and your relative was in the belly of you-know-who; I will save you the gory details.

During the colonial time and before the coming into effect of the Wild Life Ordinance 1998, relatives and friends of a victim would organise a search-and-kill mission, or else, employ someone called ‘Pak Awang’, a professional crocodile catcher.

In Lundu, back in the 1950s, one ‘Pak Jalil’ was a famous croc-catcher. He caught the juveniles for sale as a concession to keep the Kayan River safe, giving the local fishermen freedom from competition in catching the ‘udang galah’ (big prawns), which were abundant in that river.

Another professional catcher was ‘Nyalih Anak Nandi’. Tuai Kampong Nyalih of Ulu Temelan was popular with the officials in the Forest Department. He was a great help to them to catch the reptilian murder suspects at Siniawan a decade ago by a method called ‘alir’ or ‘alih’.

Unfortunately, we have lost these experts bringing with them the traditional art of catching crocodiles alive. Both these venerable ‘Pak Awang’ died of old age, but many crocodiles had been caught by their ancient rituals, infinite patience and belief in the supernatural, plus body strength and monetary incentive.

As a result, the rivers in the state where they operated were safe from the dangerous reptiles.

Nowadays, the catchers are equipped with sophisticated equipment, better than ‘alir’.

So, are we a lot safer?

On March 20 (Wednesday), The Borneo Post carried a story, ‘SFC conducting croc removal ops in several areas along Sarawak River until March 27’.

The danger posed by the crocodiles lurking in Sarawak River must be very serious indeed to the people in the villages of Kampung Bintawa, Kampong Pulo, Kampung Semarang, Kampung Penglima Seman, Kampung Sinjan, Kampung Tupong, Kampung Ajibah Abol, Kampung Patingan, Kampung Kudei and those living and using parts of the river at Petanak and Padungan.

I hope that similar operations would be carried out in other rivers in Sarawak.

The Batang Kayan is infested with crocodiles. Please include that river. That is my hometown, and I do not want my cousins to be gobbled up by a croc!

I say the removal of the crocodiles from Sarawak River is a good move. More, more and more of such moves, please.

If the government had, in the past, listened to the appeal by the participants at past seminars, the number of crocodiles in our rivers would be greatly reduced by now, or their habitat confined to only parts of certain rivers.

We are told that crocodiles have a useful function as scavengers in the rivers – I accept that.

But their population needs to be kept at a manageable level. We have let the crocodile population grow far too long.

Now, I am greatly relieved!