By Roel Catoto
JABOY, Pilar, Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte (MindaNews/30 September) – Some residents fish in Paghungawan Marsh in this barangay, but Philippine freshwater crocodiles also hunt for food in the same environs, setting off a competition that appears to have put the endangered predators at a disadvantage.
Thirty-six year-old crocodiles, comprising 30 females and six males which were bred in captivity, were freed in the marshland on March 22 last year.
The crocodiles belong to the species Crocodylus mindorensis, considered one of the most threatened in the world.
But at least two of those crocodiles died either in January or February this year after they got entangled in a fisherman’s net, village chair Narda E. Trego said. She added the marsh had plenty of water at the time since it was rainy season.
During the rainy season Paghungawan Marsh would have at least 600 hectares covered with water. Its area would shrink to around 120 hectares in the dry season.
Trego said a few villages still fish in the marsh, but they have regulated fishing activities through a barangay ordinance passed in August last year that bans the use of nets, tubli (poison) and big hooks.
“We are implementing our barangay ordinance because this reptile is rare and endangered and it’s protected by law,” she said.
She said some people in their village still could not understand the importance of the crocodiles, and they would get angry whenever they are told not to do fishing.
She said the crocodiles now now have a better habitat in this village.
“It was just unfortunate that two were killed, but we hope that it will never happen again,” she added.
A resident who requested anonymity said only around 20 of the reptiles were left in the marsh due to fishing.
Bred in captivity
The 36 crocodiles were bred at Pagasa Farms in Kapalong, Davao del Norte from the offspring of the stock loaned to it by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. They were released in the marsh by the DENR, National Museum and Crocodylus Porosus Philippines Inc., which operates Pagasa Farms.
Crocodylus mindorensis enjoys legal protection under Republic Act 9147, the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, and other Philippine laws, according to the DENR. It is also protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
These reptiles shy away from humans and so don’t pose danger to residents.
According to Wikipedia, this Philippine crocodile is a relatively small, freshwater crocodile. They have a relatively broad snout and thick bony plates on its back (heavy dorsal armor). This is a fairly small species, reaching breeding maturity at 1.5 m (4.9 ft) and 15 kg (33 lb) in both sexes and a maximum size of approximately 3.1 m (10 ft). Females are slightly smaller than males. Philippine crocodiles are golden-brown in color, which darkens as it matures.
Trego said a local organization called Jaboy Ecotourism Conservation Organization (JICO) helps protect the crocodiles.
JICO treasurer Nelia Salavaloza said the presence of the crocodiles in their marshland has turned their village into a tourism site.
“We offer crocodile watching at night in the marshland and boating during the day at a very affordable price,” Salvaloza said.
This attraction started in August this year. For P400 pesos, two persons can enjoy a 30-minute ride and crocodile watching.
Salavaloza said some foreigners who had tried the crocodile watching at night were amazed by the crocodiles.
She told some villagers to refrain from fishing saying they would still benefit from the visiting tourists in their area.
“We allow everyone from this village to tour visitors in the marshland,” she added.