Where there is a Lolong, there will always be fish

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“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)

 

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  • Bayang_magiliw

    There are bigger crocodiles and they belong to the UNA party. They are being led by the three crocodile kings: Binay the black crocodile, JPE the centuries old crocodile and Erap the father of numerous crocodiles.

    • catmanjohn

      You insult crocodiles by associating them with the likes of UNA… at least you know where they are coming from, and their intentions.

    • Roy Batty

      UNA…is that another sequel of the Jurassic Park series?

    • 12JEM

       While you are making fun of them their  children are in the top ten of the survey. They will have the last laugh then.

  • Melanio Calayeg

    Where is the Crocodile now? 

    • buttones

      It’s dead, ‘they’ killed it trying make money out of it…they put it in a cage so tourist could gawp at it, like the elephant in Manila zoo which is dying as we speak…..

      • ARIKUTIK

        Preserve the creature. It’s a great tourist attraction, displayed in Aqua city.

  • farmerpo

     ‘Where there are crocodiles, there will always be fish,” explained Alcala.’

     It is the other way around. Where there is fish there is crocodile or other bigger fish or other predators…  Predators does not attract fish. Predators go after prey. It is the most basic law of the wild..

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UYCOAGIL35OAIRH2T6QH3IZUMY Ike

      I think you did not get it clearly!! Crocodiles recycles nutrients, When it defacates is fertilizes the lake ecosystem which became food for the fish.  The presence of crocodile in a water system helps in supporting fish life, on the otherhand, fish just form a small part of an adult crocodile diet.

  • Hey_Dudes

    Well, no doubt about it now.  The mother of all crocodiles Lolong as christened by the locals in Agusan, is dead but will live in the memories of those involved in capturing it.

    With one down, 200+ to go with the smaller but nonetheless voracious baby lolongs in congress, 1 thousand plus more lolongs in various city halls and their tribe is not about to get decimated.  In fact, if Filipino lolongs does not alter their looting habit, the bigger lolongs will simply devour the pipitsugin lolongs so get out of the way.

    Naturally, the grandmother of all lolongs is still confine at Veterans and possibly having her last laugh reading her biggest competitor in Agusan got outlasted by her. 

  • catmanjohn

    There are a few additional facts and corrections one should add to Mr.Yan’s article. The near capture of the larger crocodile, whom the natives call ‘Potol’, was a most harrowing and almost supernatural event. The same sized steel cables that captured the 21 ft. Lolong, the 25-30 ft. Potol was able to break apart and escape. Many people who have seen this leviathan have sworn that the cables are still wrapped around its upper jaws, therefore it is a threat to its own health and safety, and thus should be ‘rescued’. Those whose lives have crossed paths with these awesome crocodiles have been indoctrinated, with their blood, sweat, and tears, into an unspoken brethren Cult of the Crocodilans. Many cultures throughout the world have such deep reverence for these creatures, as in the Bible, for they represent man’s fear of death, the primal building block of religion. What is important is how each culture overcomes this fear of death, reflective of their individual creativity and resources. Many a people’s livelihood has suddenly been erased overnight with LoLong’s death. It is now time to answer this challenge, which will define the character of their culture and existence.

  • regd

    Where there is money, there will always be an estrada!

  • Roy Batty

    The evolution of the crocodiles from swamp dwelling creatures into politicians clad in barong tagalog is nature at its finest. Anti-evolution Christian should rest their case.

    Cheers to Charles Darwin!

  • JosengSisiw1

    Very informative;)

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/HYCSJZQQM73RU4POSJKVPKZYJQ Johnny

    Don’t compare crocodiles to corrupt officials, crocs have more reputations than them…  

    • Lapu Lapu

      Don’t be mistaken Manong Jo. It is because of the similarities in their name and character.

      The human variant of Croc is Crook. Both are known greedy predators.

  • Lapu Lapu

    The sudden appearance of Lolong has great significance in Philippine history.

    First he put Philippines on top of the World by achieving the Guinness World Record as the biggest Croc.

    Since he is a croc and Filipinos compare them to corrupt public officials; it reminds us of being labelled as one of the corrupt nations in the world.

    Now Lolong is dead and the present admins “war on corruption” efforts may hopefully improve our status pretty soon.

  • at-large

     There are two types of crocodiles in the Philippines— Its a BIG NO…theres a lot of types of crocodiles in the Philippines, we have Arroyocliptobia, Estradaplunderensis and so many more !

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_74BHLUWFMQC3GACN35LFKNPCT4 Marvelous D

    i’ts an insult to crocodiles to compare them to UNA candidates. crocs live off whatever the environment provide for them and has been in existence for millions of years. they are among nature’s grand designs. the two-legged creatures that you people are referring to that appear on center stage during election periods are the most rapacious, destructive kind. they live off people and their environment and it is by their own design!

  • katabay1106

    Marami namang crocodiles sa senado at kongreso, bakit si Lolong pa ang namatay? Hu hu hu…

  • UrHONOR

    >>>Where there is a Lolong, there will always be fish<<

    WHERE there is Mike Alolong, there will always be tongpats.

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