This 16-foot dominant male saltwater crocodile was killed by the father and brother of his victim in Balabac, southern Palawan. (Photo courtesy of the Coast Guard District Palawan)

Balabac town authorities and lead enforcement agencies are targetting to achieve harmony between humans and crocodiles in the area by 2029.

Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS) spokesperson Jovic Fabello said Thursday this vision was incorporated in the strategic planning conducted in the municipality in April this year.

“By 2029, the people of Balabac, as well as crocodiles, are living in harmony with each other in rich and abundant natural resources. Threats to crocodiles and human intervention are minimized and prevented. People are aware of the importance and significance brought by crocodiles to economic and natural resource development and with due regard and protection to the lives of man and crocodile, in unity and collaboration of the Local Government of Balabac and the entire society,” the vision statement said.

This vision statement formulated by the Balabac Local Government Unit (LGU), Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center (PWRCC), United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Protect Wildlife Project, Crocodylus Porosus Philippines, Incorporated (CPPI), and PCSDS.

Wildlife authorities in Palawan carefully restrain a saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) measuring 15.6 feet days after a fisherman was attacked and killed in Balabac in December 2018. (Photo courtesy of Palawan Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Center)

As of the second week of October this year, Fabello said they have recorded five cases of crocodile attacks in Balabac, of which three incidents resulted in a fatality.

Fabello noted that the three cases that had fatalities all happened in Barangay Salang.

The crocodile attack in Barangay Salang on October 8 involved a 16-foot dominant male saltwater crocodile, which was killed by the relatives of his victim along the tidal mouth of a river.

The 20-year-old victim, Junick Husin, who was also a resident of the barangay, died while his companion Edgar Legazpi managed to escape and survive.

Harmony between humans and crocodiles is possible

Ranier Manalo, a crocodile expert and the program director of CPPI in a phone interview Thursday said harmony between men and crocodiles is possible.

Manalo also reiterated there is “no direct conflict” between humans and crocodiles.

Manalo said a crocodile has no concept of taking revenge, but only responds to stimulus as a predator.

File photo courtesy of Mellie Corvera/Crocodylus Porosus Philippines, Inc.

However, he reiterated that it will indeed be a disaster when the habitat of crocodiles is disturbed by human development and other factors.

“For me it is a man-made disaster. Dapat ipe-prevent mo ang disaster to happen. Bakit ko sinabing man-made, ano ba ang nangyayari sa Balabac ngayon na development? Let us look at it one by one. I do not know if na-kumpleto na ‘yong sa Catagupan na runway. So nasaan ba sila maglalagay ng runway? Does it affect? I don’t know if saan din ang area na ‘yon. Is that project affects the mangrove or the habitat ng crocodile? Then again we do not have to restrict their development. So we need to inspect to attest that these crocodiles will not be disturbed by the development,” said Manalo.

He explained that when the habitat of these reptiles gets disturbed, their initial response is look for a new area of displacement.

Manalo also said that upon their recent visit to Balabac, they have observed a non-compliance with the prescribed easement from the bodies of water.

He said the houses are actually dispersed in the mangrove areas, which are the crocodile habitat.

“Unang-una dito sa harapan sa may pier, tapos dito sa may Catagupan meron din diyan, tapos sa Pasig [ang lumalabag sa easement], spread-out na ang mga bahay sa bakawan. May mga area naman kasi na totally nasa lupa, ayaw lang nila tumigil doon. Tapos sasabihin nila, ‘Diyan ang kabuhayan namin’,” said Manalo.

A call for Balabac LGU to act

Fabello called on officials of Balabac to “cooperate and take the lead” in giving necessary solutions to the dilemma in their area of jurisdiction.

One of the first steps the Balabac authority must strictly implement is the prescribed easement zone, which requires 40 meters away from coastline for agricultural and timberland areas, and 20 meters both sides for river banks.

“Ang ginagawa nila kapag may incident kadalasan media pa nga ang unang nakakaalam at nagre-report sa amin kaysa sila. Pag-may incident nagre-report din sila sa amin pero verbal, hindi ‘yong official letter or any official form of communication. Somehow it is parang reactive lang,” said Fabello.

Fabello said the town’s LGU even suggested in a meeting this year that all the crocodiles be removed from the waters of Balabac instead of facing each existing problem with a concrete solution.

On the other hand, Manalo said it is important that the LGU take the initiative in fully embracing their responsibility for their own people.

“Kelangan ‘yong LGU ay i-embrace kung ano ang mga napag-uusapan natin. Kung papaano umiwas, magbigay siya ng resolution, at i-maintain nila ‘yong mga kailangan ng komunidad na paalalahanan silang palagi. Kasi kung hindi nila gagawin ‘yon at tayo lang palagi ang nag-i-insist ng gagawin, wala tayong matutulong sa kanila,” said Manalo.

Existing problems in town

Fabello said issues related to this dilemma were identified in April by the stakeholders, LGU, and leading agencies.

Among the main issues are: habitat destruction including tan barking, fuel wood-making, and housing; hunting, poaching, collection and trading; raising of livestock in coastal areas; value of crocodile versus value of human; bad or problematic crocodiles; improper waste management with regards to food waste and slaughtered animals; unreported croc bite incidents; distance of medical facility for victims; outdated municipal zoning; lack of alternative source of income; lack of information dissemination in dangerous areas; and increasing population of crocodile stocks.

Fabello said their team along with other concerned agencies are going to Balabac last week of October to present the plan.

File photo of crocodile attack victims

Objectives and solutions

Fabello said their goal is to reduce by 80 percent the habitat destruction and lower by 90 percent the hunting, poaching, collection and trading of saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) in town.

They also target to increase by 80 percent the socio-economic status of the local communities and raise their knowledge and appreciation about crocodiles.

Benefits of crocodiles to humans

Manalo said crocodiles are present in the biodiversity for the benefit of human beings.

Manalo reiterated human beings are indeed valuable than crocodiles and explained their existence is actually for the advantage of men.

“Crocodiles provide ecological importance. Crocodiles provide cultivation of nutrients para magkaroon ng planktons so that the nursing fish will thrive at lumaki siya. Tapos, kakainin na naman siya ng pangalawang isda na mas malalaki, and that will provide more fish sa area nila at more crabs, more aquatic organisms,” said Manalo.

Manalo said mangroves are a nursery for fish, and only the crocodiles have the ability to plow the soil under the stagnant water surrounding it, to give way for the nutrients to spread out for food for the juvenile marine species.

These marine species will then serve as food for humans.

Manalo said the crocodiles are significant in the ecology and the human beings’ capacity to conserve these species will directly benefit them in return.

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