Decades after being categorized as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), crocodile conservationists are hopeful for a “brighter future” ahead for the Philippine freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis).
Rainier Manalo, program head of Crocodylus Porosus Philippines Incorporated (CPPI), on Thursday said that their research and conservation team found indisputable proof establishing Lanao del Sur as a habitat for the critically endangered Philippine freshwater crocodile.
“Since time immemorial, the Muslim communities in the area are aware of its population, but little to no scientific research has been recorded. This is important because if we found out that there are new habitats established and that the species number is increasing, or at least stable, we can finally move to remove it from the critically endangered category,” he said.
Since its inclusion in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 1996, the Philippine freshwater crocodile only has a recorded number between 92 to 137 species in the wild. The decline in their population was heavily attributed to the extreme hunting for the leather industry in the 1950s.
“The Philippine freshwater crocodile is one of the shyest crocodile species from around the world making them an easy target for the hunters. The Wildlife Act of the Philippines was not promulgated until 2001 which is already several decades late in terms of issuing protective measures and conservation efforts to save the species,” Manalo said.
Preserved by culture
Muslim communities in southern Mindanao including Maguindanaons, Manobos, and Maranaos of the Malabang municipality in Lanao del Sur treated the freshwater crocodile species as “pagali”, or the reincarnation of their deceased relative, making it culturally significant.
“Historical records do not show Lanao provinces as a habitat for this species. This means that for about 70 years, we do not know that freshwater crocodile was in there, but the locals do,” Manalo said.
Saino Benito Pagayawan, a police officer and a former DENR forest ranger, retrieved a juvenile Philippine crocodile species in the community on November 28, 2019. CPPI immediately investigated the lead and confirmed through a DNA test that the freshwater crocodile species was found in Matling river in Malabang municipality, Lanao del Sur.
“We currently identified five locations in southern Mindanao including Malady river, Miundas river, Matling river as habitat for the freshwater crocodile. Our estimate shows that there could be about hundreds of them in the wild. If there are sightings and juvenile species recorded, this means that their population is active. The population survey will resume by March 2020,” Manalo said.
CPPI aims to move the Philippine freshwater crocodile’s categorization from “critically endangered” to an “endangered” species in the following years. Conservationists need to record at least 500 individuals in the wild and establish a stable or increasing habitat to achieve their goal.
“Lanao provinces and southern Mindanao communities have close ties with the Indo-Malay culture; the same culture as Malaysia that makes the species culturally protected. With the recent scientific findings, we are looking forward to a brighter future ahead of the Philippine freshwater crocodile,” Manalo said.
Philippines has two endemic out 28 known species of crocodile in the whole world—the “agressive” Philippine saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) and the “shy” Philippine freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis).