As we write this, authorities are still searching for 12-year old Esnida Laja-Laja of Barangay Catagupan, Balabac. She was last seen by her two younger sisters days ago being dragged by a crocodile that suddenly grabbed her while she was walking home after getting water from a stream.
This wasn’t an isolated incident. Several weeks before this happened, another resident was wounded in a similar wildlife attack in Barangay Pasig, Balabac. Frequent sightings of the feared reptile within the vicinity of a public elementary school in Barangay Rabor had prompted school authorities to institute measures to protect their students and teachers.
Wildlife experts who have studied the crocodile habitats of southern Palawan place their population at over 300 individuals. Their studies indicate that most can be found around the island of Bugsuk, Balabac. The other places with significant numbers are Barangay Canipaan in Rizal, Barangay Sumbiling in Bataraza and the Balabac barangays of Tukanigalo, Dalit, Agutayan and Pasig.
The recent incidents of crocodiles’ attacks have posed a daunting challenge to local and provincial authorities on how to deal with the problem. Scientists have suggested that the aggressive behavior of the crocodiles against the local population may have to do with the disturbance of their natural habitat. It is an understandable natural phenomenon that when the habitat’s wildlife population is disturbed, they will seek food elsewhere and will not discriminate on humans as prey.
The widespread destruction of mangrove forests in Southern Palawan is a well-documented fact. It is linked to the unabated illegal trade of tanbark, unregulated construction of fish pens and charcoal making. It is thus a problem that points to the efficacy of governance and law enforcement, not to discount vision and leadership foresight.
We need not lose sight of the fact that crocodiles play an important role in keeping the balance of the wetland ecosystems they live in. As a species on top of their food chain, their unnatural behavior suggests a significant deterioration of the mangrove ecosystem and with it, the quality of life that human communities that depend on it.
Last thing we want to see is a policy of exclusion and the persecution of the crocodiles, as a response to their aggressive behavior. We humans need to understand that despite the tragedy that befell on the innocent child, it is foolhardy to place the blame on the reptiles. It is, sadly, the price that we humans are paying for the harm we have done and are doing to our natural environment.