‘Lolong,’ the crocodile hunter

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CROCODILE DUNDEE. The Philippines’ version of Crocodile Dundee, Ernesto “Lolong” Coñate (front left) poses with his team in this file photo following a successful crocodile capture in Isabela. Coñate died before the crocodile named after him (inset) was captured in Agusan. PHOTO COURTESY OF WILLIAM TABENAS AND DENNIS JAY SANTOS/INQUIRER MINDANAO

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—Ernesto “Lolong” Coñate was distraught when he and his team of crocodile hunters came back to their base that day empty-handed.

It had been three days of failed attempts to catch a problem croc in the interiors of Agusan marsh in Agusan del Sur province. They had been returning to the marsh every morning to check the traps after setting them up the night before. And each time, they discovered all of their traps were cut loose and destroyed.

“Nakakapitong kable na tayo. Nakakahiya na (We’ve already set up seven traps. This is embarrassing),” he told his teammates.

It was just one of those moments that endeared Lolong to colleagues. Before he died late last month because of hypertension, the soft-spoken Coñate was the go-to guy at the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center (PWRCC) located in this city, home to the government’s main crocodile conservation program.

The animal handler passed away a local legend—for setting up the trap that ultimately snagged what is now believed to be the world’s biggest crocodile on record to be captured in the wild.

Coñate, 49, was no longer around to see the monster catch, but his colleagues paid him a fitting tribute by naming the 6.4-meter (21-ft) croc “Lolong.”

A veteran crocodile hunter, Coñate was the center’s main man whenever it was called to respond to distress calls involving problem reptiles in the wild.

Last month, he and a coworker at PWRCC received orders from their head office in Manila to go to the sleepy town of Bunawan in Agusan del Sur, to capture a menacing crocodile. The request for assistance came from the town mayor, Edwin Elorde.

At the time, all they knew was that they were after a big predator that had reportedly killed a schoolgirl, a fisherman and a grown carabao.

Last trap

On the night of August 28, Lolong and his team of local guides started working on a new trap not much different from the ones he used in previous missions, except for the thicker cable leading to the mechanism that catches the croc by its upper jaw.

After speaking to his wife and sons on his cell phone, he excused himself from the rest of the group, who were then relaxing and, over a few drinks, discussing how they could finally pin down their elusive quarry.

That night proved to be Coñate’s last. Complaining of severe dizziness apparently due to hypertension, he was rushed to the town’s hospital but he failed to make it.

He left behind a wife and five grownup children—and over 20 years in government service as a crocodile handler.

“He told us he was ashamed to face the mayor because they still hadn’t caught the crocodile after seven attempts and after all the support they had been getting,” Coñate’s son and namesake Ernesto Jr. told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in Filipino.

Coñate never knew that his “last trap” would catch a big one for the books. Prior to his feat, the biggest captured croc on record was only 5.5 meters.

Bunawan officials later announced plans to formally report “Lolong (the croc)” to the Guinness Book of World Records, hoping to turn it into an ecotourism draw for the town.

A town official said in a radio interview in Puerto Princesa on Wednesday that the Bunawan municipal council had passed a resolution commending Coñate.

Risky business

But such posthumous accolades may hardly comfort Coñate’s buddy, William Tabenas, who moves about in crutches and has stopped working at the PWRCC to undergo rehabilitation for a broken leg.

Tabenas was injured after a 12-foot crocodile that he and Coñate earlier caught in Rio Tuba, Bataraza town in Palawan, broke his right leg as they were trying to restrain it.

“We’re trained to do it but sometimes when you are tired, like in that particular occasion, you tend to lower your guard,” Tabenas told the Inquirer.

He recalled that while he was trying to bind the crocodile’s mouth with rope, the animal snapped its head toward him and the jerking motion sent him flying. He landed 3 meters away from the animal.

“I missed that trip to Bunawan with Ernesto. We were supposed to be there together but because of my injury I was sidelined,” he said in Filipino.

Killer crocs

Crocodile attacks in the Philippines are actually rare, according to experts, even in Palawan which is considered host to the last few remaining crocodile habitats in the country.

“For the past 11 years since we began implementing the Wildlife Conservation Act, there were only three cases of attacks that I can remember,” said Alex Marcaida, an official of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Agency (PCSD).

Marcaida said crocodile attacks were usually traceable to habitat disturbance. In the southern Palawan town of Rizal, for example, authorities linked a crocodile attack to the destruction of a mangrove forest by the illegal tanbark trade.

Crocodiles, according to experts, are naturally not aggressive toward humans and are only likely to attack if they feel their territory is being invaded.

“They don’t go out of their shelters to hunt human beings for food,” said Dr. Glen Rebong, director of the PWRCC.

“There have been no cases of attacks in areas where habitats have not been disturbed or (invaded) by communities. Only crocodile sightings, but no human attacks have been recorded,” Marcaida added.

‘Human-wildlife conflicts’

In Manila, environment officials said the capture of “Lolong” in the Agusan marsh last week underscored the importance of preserving the wetland while addressing “human-wildlife conflicts.”

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) will meet with Bunawan Mayor Elorde to assess the remaining crocodile population in the marsh.

“Our conservation efforts should not end with the capture of ‘Lolong.’  While its capture comes as a big relief to the residents, some of whom may have experienced crocodile attacks in the past, we also have to take a look at the situation on how we could harmonize or promote the coexistence of the people and the crocodiles and other wildlife in the Agusan marsh,” he said.

On the plan to turn Lolong into a tourist attraction, Lim said PAWB will also meet with local officials to come up with the best artificial habitat for the reptile.

Two more crocodiles have been spotted in the marsh, which is also home to a variety of wildlife species, according to PAWB chief Mundita Lim. With a report from Kristine L. Alave

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Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of INQUIRER.net. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • http://twitter.com/tanmarius_23 tristan marius

    RIP, Ernesto “Lolong” Coñate. It could be better if the crocodile was named, ”ARROYOS”. i would say, this is the sign of time, CROCODILES are getting captured. Sa madaling panahon, pamilya ni Gloria at Mike ang papasok sa kulungan. 

    • Anonymous

      Nice one and I agree with you. Anyway, it has been reported that Lolong (Mike) has a companion while hunting, maybe it is his mate. Normally the female croc is always smaller, once caught we might as well named her Oyang (short for Gloria).

    • Anonymous

      Kabayan, mahirap hulihin yang na-isip mong mga buayang yan.  Bakit?  Kasi pag hinuli mo yong ISA,  dalawa, hanggang tatlo, ang kalaban mo…..sasagpangin ka ng mga kasamahang iba kapag hinuli mo ang isa!  At, isa pa, hindi madali ang manghuli ng buaya sa hospital….baka makasuhan ka pa.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_H6AKTX5DDIKXQUNE3LWSKUSPFA lemmz

      never ever compare crocodiles with a greedy politicians….try to read books about crocodile behaviour and you will learn a lot…..di gahaman ang mga crocodiles.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4QAIR53YIPJLMPSQJZTOJIGBVI Jaz

      RIP, Ernesto “Lolong” Coñate. It could be better if the crocodile was named, ”ARROYOS” – Please NO! spare this creature from any insult……do not associate it with anything about the ARROYO’S

  • Anonymous

    This would be the biggest archosaure alive in present. It is a shame to put it in captivity. This creature had probably lived in its territory for many decades or even a 100 years and saltwater crocodiles (crocodylus porosus) do have a very strong relationship to their home river. Where is the proove that it killed any person? It is definatly possible to educate people to avoid the main risks about cp. Seeing this fascinating big creature in chains makes me very sad.  Todays mankind is strong, but not wise and not not good.
    Please, release it! 

    • Anonymous

      i join you on this call

  • Anonymous

    rest in peace, lolong.

    at least lolong, the croc and its bigger partner don’t feign illness.

  • Anonymous

    There should  be a Lolong for crocodiles of the two-footed specie so that finally, we can catch the big ones.

  • Anonymous

    Kung alam pa lang ng malaking buwaya ang magsakit-sakitan, hindi sana siya nahuli. Hindi kasi niya kayang gayahin ang mga malalaking buwaya sa Maynila na katulad ni FG at GMA. hehehe.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_H6AKTX5DDIKXQUNE3LWSKUSPFA lemmz

      ano ba kayo di gahaman ang crocodiles…huwag nyo nga ikumpara ang mga politiko sa isang crocodile…NAKAKALUNGKOT MARAMI PA RING TAO ANG DI ALAM ANG TUNAY NA KATANGIAN NG BUWAYA….im sure matutuwa si lolong kung ititigil nyo ang pagkumpara ng buwaya sa isang politiko…

    • Anonymous

      Kung magsakit sakitan po si Lolong ay hindi po tatanggapin ng St. Lukes Hospital kung wala siyang perang dala. Mas marangal po si Lolong kaysa sa kanila.

  • Anonymous

    Lolong is the real crocodile dundee, the crocodile hunter.
    It’s bad that he did not see the capture of the biggest crocodile in the world.
    My condolence to the family. May he rest in peace.

  • Anonymous

    Tigilan  na natin ang pagkukumpara sa crocodile at politiko. Nakakahiya.
    Ang buwaya makapal ang balat pwedeng gawin belt, sapatos at damit na Lacoste, in short may pakinabang.
    Ang politiko naman ay manipis  ang balat kaya di pwedeng gawin sapatos pero makapal ang mukha pwedeng sapatusin.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Badajosnon-Macabaian/100002348566742 Badajosnon Macabaian

      ha?

  • Anonymous

    The most humongous croc in the world was found the Philippines recently and will eventually replace the last entry at the Guinness of World Records. It has been reported that some staff in National Geographic are contemplating to come over and see the monstrous reptile the locals named it Lolong.  At the height of this festive mode in Agusan del Sur some pranksters are saying in jest that it is also here in the Philippines where you can find the smallest but the most corrupt and  virulent person in the world, 4ft. 3in, they contemptuously called Arrovo. So there… two creatures, big and small, are STRONG contenders to the Guinness WR… from her very own STRONG REPUBLIC indeed! 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Badajosnon-Macabaian/100002348566742 Badajosnon Macabaian

      hahahahahahahahahaha……….

  • http://joboni96.myopenid.com/ joboni96

    kung tutuong mag-asawa
    ang mayor at vice-mayor ng bunawan
    tama lang dito nahuli
    ang dambuhalang buwayang lolong

    kung mahuli pa ang asawa niyang buwaya
    taman tama na

    siguro ang mga anak
    abc at sk councilors din

    ano na ba nangyayari
    sa mga local governments natin?
    pinondohan ito ng
    internal revenue allotment
    ng local government code

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MAVNEFXUT5OTDLRSUXPQST6SUI catmanjohn

    Congratulations to all those who partook in the capture of this giant crocodile. It is too bad that it took the death of another fishermen, Daniel Austero to compel the politicians in Bunawan to order the capture of the killer croc, that is, if it is indeed the one that caused the disappearance of Mr. Austero in July. The politicians in Bunawan and Manila waited too long to respond, and the subsequent deaths could have been avoided. Condolences to all families whose members have been lost directly or indirectly to this giant crocodile.  The Philippine people should keep a vigilant eye on this prize, since the notorious politicians in Bunawan, known for their incestuous political revolving seats, (former mayor Elorde became the chief-counselor, while his brother became the new mayor, while his wife now serves as vice mayor), may eventually find a way to redirect LoLong to more ‘competent’ hands of certain benefactors with similar interests. This story may become a fine example of showing the world Philippine politics at work.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UM2KR4ET2HJXBNDZ4QAV2Z6PEM Herbert

    FREE LOLONG THE CROC BEFORE HE DIES.

  • Anonymous

    Another couple crocodile

    Pagcor ‘pabaon’ to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo: P345M

    Then EX FAKE President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo received a total of P345 million in a single day from Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) barely a month before she stepped down from Malacañang, Pagcor chair Cristino Naguiat

    Jose Miguel Arroyo owned helicopters

    five helicopters—all Robinson R44 Raven
    with Series Nos. 1370 to 1374
    A total of $1,423,025 was paid to Lionair

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZQHBLHY5HIZ7G5K3OWJKDTAHOA Bert

    Can we send these crocodile hunters in Congress…There are much bigger crocodile in Congress. Gloria Arroyo, Iggy Arroyo, Mikee Arroyo, and Dato Arroyo…the father Mike Arroyo is still hiding in Boracay..

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZQHBLHY5HIZ7G5K3OWJKDTAHOA Bert

    Since its a male crocodile…they should name him “FG” or “MIKE ARROYO” not LOLONG..

  • Anonymous

    Tama lang “Lolong” the croc isnot released back into the wild as PETA suggests. Nakatikim na ng human and carabao flesh siya at sigurado siya ang hahuntingin ng trophy hunters. Maraming magbabayad ng malaki para maisabit sa trophyroom ang bungo ni “Lolong” the croc. Iiyak sigurado si “Lolong” the man.

  • Anonymous

    isn’t it the home of pwrcc should be in manila? they have already a huge facility and fully air-conditioned! may be all we need to change is palawan to phillippines because there are only very few of them in palawan or agusan while in manila it’s plentiful! some are even head or member of the dynasties their earlier generations created. in fact the queen’s croc dynasty is now well placed in luzon and visayas –may be soon in mindanao?

    one more thing crocs staying in manila are more aggressive, dangerous and ferocious species. as a matter of fact just few days ago one of them attacked a poor security guard! yet this croc is still at large despite of the fact that there’s one croc who allegedly represents and protect the rights and welfare of the security guards? well, guess what? croc-to-croc arrangement? your guess is as good as mine.

    but after reading the sad fate of our crocodile hunter mr ernesto “lolong” coñate i think in respect to the bereaved family we should refrain from using “lolong” to relate/describe the generally vicious crocs in manila. yes, i too have used that word already for that purpose since the first day of the news about it. to the coñate family my apologies.

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