Mayor hopes to draw in tourists with giant crocBy Franklin A. Caliguid
BUTUAN City, Philippines—The saltwater crocodile captured over the weekend in Bunawan, Agusan del Sur, is to become the star of a planned ecotourism and conservation park near the Agusan Marsh, Bunawan Mayor Edwin Elorde said Tuesday.
“We will take advantage of this crocodile as a tourism attraction and we hope it will help us generate income and jobs,” Elorde told the Inquirer by phone.
The saltwater crocodile, now named Lolong—after Ernesto “Lolong” Conate, a Palawan hunter who was hired to help catch the crocodile but died of stroke while laying the groundwork for the plan days before—was captured after a 24-day hunt by a team of crocodile experts and villagers near Lake Mihaba, one of several bodies of water within the Agusan Marsh, the country’s largest marshland.
The hunt was launched after a local fisherman went missing near a creek early last month and a reported crocodile attack on a carabao.
Villagers also claimed that a crocodile attacked and killed a 12-year-old girl, identified as Rowena Romano, in the same waters on March 7, 2009.
Elorde expressed hopes that Lolong, which measures 21 feet (6.4 meter) and weighs 1,075 kilograms, would help boost tourism and income for the sleepy town of about 37,000 people.
Elorde said the people of Bunawan believe that Lolong is not the only large crocodile lurking in the 113,910-hectare Agusan Marsh, which straddles several municipalities in Agusan.
“Maybe a thousand or more,” he said when asked for an estimate.
But Elorde clarified that there was no more hunt for crocodiles in the municipality, contrary to some reports.
He also said that the hunt for Lolong was launched only to appease residents who became after hearing reports of a crocodile attacking animals and humans.
This early, Elorde said that crocodile conservation groups and researchers have signified interest to support plans about Lolong, which is now housed in a huge metal cage, becoming the main attraction of the planned ecopark.
To heighten public awareness, Elorde said they were planning to enlist Lolong, who is believed to be 50 years old, in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest and oldest crocodile captured alive in recent years.
“We are eyeing a Guinness Record for Lolong,” he said.
Mario Eludo, technical director for protected areas and wildlife in Caraga, said he saw no problem in the plan to place the crocodile in a new habitat for tourism purposes.
“So far, the DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] sees no problem with the planned ecotourism park. Whether or not the crocodile can adapt to the new habitat will be the subject of our study,” he said.
Eludo also said placing the crocodile in a contained environment would provide researchers, environmentalists and scientists an opportunity to observe its nature and behavior.