Biologist calls for meet on condition of crocodiles in Agusan Marsh

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/24 September) – A workshop among scientists and experts should be held to determine the behavior and condition of crocodiles inhabiting Agusan Marsh in order to come up with appropriate measures in managing their habitat, a scientist on Thursday said.

Dr. Jurgenne H.  Primavera, an Agusan-born biologist said the workshop should come up with information on the reptiles’ niche in the marshland, carrying capacity of the marsh for crocodiles as well as for humans, and their breeding behavior, among others.

“Such knowledge will provide the basis for a regulatory framework to include the culling (controlled harvest) of wild crocodiles to stabilize their population numbers, and the zoning of the Marsh into residential, fisheries, navigational, tourism and other zones,” Primavera said in an article shared to several e-groups.

Primavera issued the call in response to the interest generated by the recent capture of “Lolong”, a 6.4-meter long crocodile in Bunawan, Agusan del Sur on the marsh which straddles the southern part of the province.

She said that guesstimates have placed the number of crocodiles in the marsh at 5,000 and that there were stories of an even bigger Crocodylus porosus, a 9-meter “monster” – unfairly named, she said — that killed a young girl on her way home from school in March 2009.

Primavera, however, said that “without accurate information, possible human-crocodile encounters will continue. All it takes is one, just one, attack on a tourist, and Agusan del Sur can forget its dreams of ecotourism.”

She called on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to organize a workshop and local officials of Agusan del Sur and the Caraga Region to provide logistics for it.

She also urged for a fund “for the research needed to estimate harvest quotas for culling, to delineate safe navigational routes, and to delimit settlement areas out of harm’s way for Manobos and other Marsh residents”.

Primavera noted that the marsh is at least 130 kilometers away from its Butuan Bay outlet, but its elevation is only 16 meters above sea level. “In earlier times when sea levels were higher, it is not difficult to imagine the free ingress of brackish water crocodiles into the Marsh,” she said.

She said that the reptiles were hunted for leather and meat from the 1960s until 1994 when the marsh was declared a protected area. The declaration stopped most of the hunting allowing the crocodiles to grow in numbers as well as body size, she added.

The Agusan Marsh serves as a natural basin that regulates the downstream flow of water to Agusan del Norte, Butuan City and neighboring areas. It is also a sanctuary of birds from temperate countries that migrate southward during the winter season. (MindaNews)