World

Catching killer saltwater crocodile 'like a feast'

Villagers and hunters in a remote southern Philippine region are so enthralled with nabbing a one-tonne crocodile that could be one of the biggest caught alive in the world that the hunt is on for an even larger beast that may be lurking in the creeks.

Lolong may become star attraction at planned ecotourism park in Philippines

A saltwater crocodile swims in a shallow pond inside its temporary cage at the remote village of Consuelo, in Bunawan township, Agusan Del Sur province in southern Philippines, on Tuesday. The 6.1-metre saltwater crocodile, now named Lolong, was captured last Saturday by villagers and veteran hunters in the creeks of the remote region. ((Associated Press))

Villagers and hunters in a remote southern Philippine region are so enthralled with nabbing a one-tonne crocodile that could be one of the biggest caught alive in the world that the hunt is on for an even larger beast that may be lurking in the creeks.

The 6.1-metre saltwater crocodile, nicknamed Lolong,  is about to become the star attraction of a planned ecotourism park -- unless it is upstaged by an even larger reptile that may be still be on the loose.

Lolong was trapped over the weekend after a three-week hunt in Bunawan township in Agusan del Sur province, where terrified villagers have reported at least one deadly attack by the huge reptiles.

The crocodile — weighing 1,075 kilograms and estimated to be at least 50 years old — is the biggest caught alive in the Philippines in recent years. Wildlife officials were trying to confirm whether it was the largest such catch in the world, said Theresa Mundita Lim of the government's Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau.

Guinness World Records lists a saltwater crocodile caught in Australia as the largest crocodile in captivity, measuring 5.48 metres. Saltwater crocodiles can live for more than 100 years and grow to seven metres. Relieved villagers in Bunawan threw a fiesta to celebrate the capture of the crocodile, which had to be pulled by rope by about 100 people from the creek to a clearing, where a crane lifted it onto a truck.

"It was like a feast, so many villagers turned up," Mayor Edwin Cox Elorde said.

Wildlife official Ronnie Sumiller, who has hunted "nuisance crocodiles" for 20 years and led the team behind the capture in Bunawan, said a search was underway for a possibly larger crocodile he and villagers have seen roaming in the farming town's marshy outskirts.

"There is a bigger one and it could be the one creating problems," Sumiller told The Associated Press by telephone from Bunawan, about 830 kilometres southeast of Manila.

"The villagers were saying 10 per cent of their fear was gone because of the first capture," Sumiller said. "But there is still the other 90 per cent to take care of."

Backed by five village hunters he has trained, Sumiller has set 20 steel cable traps with an animal carcass as bait along the creek where the first crocodile was caught and in a nearby vast marshland.

Sumiller said he found no human remains when he induced the captured crocodile to vomit.

He said he was also summoned by Bunawan officials two years ago after a huge crocodile attacked and ate a child from a capsized boat in the marshland. The crocodile was not found at the time.

Elorde said he plans to make the captured crocodile "the biggest star" in an ecotourism park to be built to increase awareness of villagers and potential tourists of the vital role the dreaded reptiles play in the ecosystem.

Killing endangered croc could net $24K fine

Philippine laws strictly prohibit civilians from killing endangered crocodiles, with violators facing up to 12 years in prison and a fine of $24,000 US.

The world's most endangered freshwater variety, Crocodylus mindorensis, is found only in the Philippines, where only about 250 are known to be in the wild.

About 1,000 of the larger saltwater type, or Crocodylus porosus, like the one captured in Bunawan, are scattered mostly in the country's southern swamplands, wildlife official Glen Rebong said.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the enormous crocodile was captured because it was a threat to the community but added that the reptiles are a reminder that the country's remaining rich habitats need to be constantly protected.

Crocodiles have been hunted in the country by poachers hoping to cash in on the high demand in wealthy Asian countries for their skin, which is coveted for vanity products ranging from bags to cellphone cases.