Quantcast
Latest Stories

Where there is a Lolong, there will always be fish

By

“They look like dinosaurs!” I screamed, gaping at live crocodiles for the first time with my brother, Jaypee. This was Manila Zoo in the 1990s and to pint-sized kids, 14-foot crocodiles seemed giant, ancient and utterly invincible.

Two decades later, I found myself beside the world’s largest captive crocodile, old Lolong, in Bunawan, Agusan del Sur. As a team from the Department of Science and Technology measured him, I realized that crocodiles actually lived way before many dinosaurs—evolving in the Mesozoic epoch to stalk juvenile triceratops, Tyrannosaurus rex and others foolish enough to get waylaid by the water’s edge.

Last Sunday’s demise of Lolong came as a shock to both crocodile enthusiasts and conservationists, including to us, hailing as we do from a family that actually weathered the worst mass extinction earth could possibly dish out.

Long ago, crocodiles were common in the Philippines. In Dr. Jose Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere,” Crisostomo Ibarra saved Elias from a rogue beast by the banks of the Pasig River. In 1823, a 27-foot crocodile was shot near the town of Jalajala in Laguna de Bay. Rizal and many of his era told of animals vicious enough to overturn boats with a flick of a tail.

Today, most of the giants are gone, wild crocodiles surviving only in scattered groups throughout the archipelago.

There are two types of crocodiles in the Philippines—and no alligators (crocodiles have V-shaped snouts while alligators sport U-shaped ones). The Philippine or freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis), critically endangered and found only in Mindanao and Isabela, has sharp grooves down its nape. The larger estuarine or saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) has a smooth neck.

Lolong is a saltwater crocodile, so named because of his ability to excrete salt through his tongue.

“These are the largest crocodiles on earth,” explained former Environment Secretary Dr. Angel Alcala while we inspected Lolong in Agusan del Sur. “Some live up to a century and can swim from island to island. Just imagine running into one underwater!”

Critically endangered

While not on the brink of extinction globally, saltwater crocodiles are critically endangered in the Philippines, having been hunted for meat, hide and pride for centuries.

Lolong’s Sept. 3, 2011, capture has been retold time and again. For three weeks, trackers deployed traps up and down the chocolate-hued creeks of Nueva Era, near Agusan Marsh. Four steel cable traps snapped. The fifth and last one snagged something solid.

The battle of hoists and grunts began—and when trappers shouted, “Nakuha na!” (“We got him!”), some 80 people surged forth to haul the giant onto a makeshift cart.

Christened Lolong after one of the crocodile hunters who died of a heart attack before the capture, the 20-foot male crocodile was interred at the Bunawan Eco-Park and Crocodile Rescue Center in Agusan del Sur, a facility designed to highlight the indigenous fauna of Agusan Marsh and someday breed crocodiles for release.

His pen—designed to hold “nuisance” creatures such as man-eaters—was fairly sufficient, but nowhere near the 15,000 hectares of his home marsh.

The crocodiles of Rizal’s time have since passed onto legend. Today, both freshwater and saltwater crocodiles are threatened with extirpation. Said Dr. Glenn Rebong of the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center: “Wild numbers have taken a nosedive because of hunting, habitat pressure and human-wildlife conflict.”

The problem of course, is that humans are encroaching into crocodile habitats. We walked over to the town of Nueva Era in Agusan del Sur to look for wild crocodiles and interview locals.

Similar to riverside communities in Laos and Cambodia, many houses near the marsh are built on stilts—some as high as 20 feet up. In these parts, people take crocodile attacks seriously.

“For generations, we believed that the spirits of our ancestors lived within the largest of crocodiles,” said local crocodile hunter Edgar Yucot as we humped through cobra-infested trails towards Magsagangsang Creek, where Lolong was caught. “Many crocodiles inhabit the marsh—each differentiated by color. Black crocodiles like Lolong are the fiercest. Green, yellow and red ones are middle spirits, while white ones are portents of luck.”

He stopped and abruptly pointed toward a clump of bamboo lodged at the center of a channel. “That’s where I saw a baby crocodile this morning.”

We squinted and waited but saw no movement, the blistering midday sun driving the creatures into the densest thickets.

Returning to Nueva Era, we talked with locals who saw an alleged 25-footer in 2011. “Jabar Abdul’s carabao (water buffalo) was tethered near the river. Locals heard splashing and came out to investigate. What they saw was incredible—the carabao was being eaten by a crocodile, much larger than any we’ve ever seen!” translated Yucot as a middle-aged woman excitedly recalled the tale.

Nicknamed Lalang, it is the new Moby Dick of crocodile hunters.

To protect the populace who fish for carp and tilapia through narrow channels aboard flimsy, dugout canoes, the local government saw fit to capture and “rescue” crocodiles like Lolong and Lalang, which are large enough to be deadly to people. In the end, humans won out—never fully realizing how crocodiles actually enrich aquatic ecosystems.

“Each crocodile recycles nutrients. Defecation fertilizes river or lake ecosystems. When people take crocodiles out, they significantly erode ecosystem processes. Where there are crocodiles, there will always be fish,” explained Alcala.

Having survived 200 million years of change, Lolong’s still-living kin now face their greatest challenge—how to tread that thin line between a world ruled by humans and their own ancient ways of living.

We can only hope that so long as responsible rescue and conservation efforts are in place, crocodiles can display the same tenacity and resilience that have allowed them to outlive T. Rex.

(Editor’s Note: Gregg Yan is the communications and media manager of World Wide Fund for Nature [WWF-Philippines] / Earth Hour Philippines)

 


Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Agusan Marsh , Bunawan , captive crocodile , Crocodile , Lolong , Philippine Crocodile , saltwater crocodile




Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
  1. Gigi Reyes back to face charges
  2. Enrile chief aide back in PH ‘to face charges’
  3. In the know: Gigi Reyes
  4. SC suspends proctor in 2011 bar exams
  5. Senator Pimentel backs German think tank’s stand vs dynasties
  6. Bar proctor suspended for photographing test papers
  7. Collector Danny Garcia says Inquirer worth more than news
  8. Meteor shower to light up PH skies
  9. What Went Before: Enrile denies Gigi Reyes was ‘other woman’
  10. Henares on Pacquiao bashing: I did not start this
  1. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  2. Suspect in Vhong Navarro mauling tries to leave PH
  3. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  4. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  5. ‘Mom, I love you,’ says text from student on sinking ferry
  6. Fr. Suarez says last Mass on Easter before returning donated land to San Miguel
  7. Enrile chief aide back in PH ‘to face charges’
  8. Massive infra spending set
  9. Henares on Pacquiao bashing: I did not start this
  10. I’ll follow my conscience on Estrada, says JV Ejercito
  1. KL confirms Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 ended in Indian Ocean
  2. MRT passengers pass the hat for 6-year-old Ashley
  3. Rookie, lady cops lauded for quick response to MOA heist
  4. Malaysia averts another air tragedy; pilot lands troubled plane safely
  5. Revilla says he was joking; Lacson stands by his story
  6. Revilla ‘consulted’ Lacson on how he evaded arrest
  7. Police rule out foul play in Helena Belmonte’s death as boyfriend is ‘traumatized’
  8. Cudia, dismissed for lying, got 99% in conduct
  9. Model Helena Belmonte wished ‘to slash her wrist and hope to die’
  10. Hammer-wielding robbers cause chaos at Philippines’ Mall of Asia
Advertisement

News

  • Healing priest invites political leaders to join ‘prayer for nation’
  • Tagle: Christ’s resurrection a message of hope to faithful
  • Aquino vows to intensify anti-corruption drive further
  • Unease in Vatican over cardinal’s luxury flat—report
  • Nepal calls off search for missing guides on Everest—official
  • Sports

  • Rain or Shine grabs No.4, sends Ginebra to 8th
  • Red-hot Alaska rips injury-depleted San Mig Coffee
  • Pacquiao courtesy call to Aquino set for Monday
  • Nick Calathes suspension a reminder of supplement risk
  • Teague scores 28 as Hawks soar past Pacers in Game 1
  • Lifestyle

  • Angono petroglyphs in danger of disappearing
  • Britain’s baby Prince George visits Australian zoo
  • Noli Yamsuan, Cardinal Sin’s ‘official’ photographer: ‘I could smell the aftershave lotion of the Pope’
  • Simplifying and lightening life
  • Where to go for Easter night-out
  • Entertainment

  • Show-biz celebrities’ other choices of summer getaway
  • Why ‘Noah’ can’t dock his ark at Philippine theaters
  • Acclaimed artist goes wild while on holiday
  • Believing in this mermaid
  • Missing Xian
  • Business

  • Supper power
  • Condo unit sales boosted Shang Properties earnings
  • ERC mulls over WESM price cap for May, June
  • Whatever happened to the ubiquitous pagers?
  • Huge 2013 net profits seen difficult to surpass in 2014
  • Technology

  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Opinion

  • Epiphany
  • Unpaid creditor vs distressed debtor
  • Moving on
  • From culinary desert to paradise
  • Response to China: ‘Usjaphil’
  • Global Nation

  • Japan presents $57-B ‘dream plan’ to solve Metro congestion
  • Tim Tebow’s charity hospital in Davao seen to open in 7 months
  • OFW died of Mers-CoV in Saudi Arabia, says family
  • Aquino, Obama to tackle US pivot to Asia during state visit
  • Asia seeks Obama’s assurance in territorial spats
  • Marketplace
    Advertisement