Malaysia: Sarawak Plans to Hunt, Kill Crocodiles

Dennis Wong
Kuching, Malaysia
161108-MY-crocs-620.jpg A saltwater crocodile is pictured in a mangrove along the Salak river in Sarawak, Malaysia, March 28, 2015.

People in Malaysia’s Sarawak state will be permitted next year to hunt crocodiles in controlling their population amid a rise in deadly attacks by the reptiles, forestry officials said.

State authorities will permit the hunting and culling of crocodiles in 10 rivers in Sarawak, following a decision by an international wildlife conservation body to allow for the control of the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), whose population has grown to 12,000 in Sarawak’s 45 rivers. The hunting and culling of crocs is also allowed if they are seen as threatening property and the peace, according to state law.

Since 2010, as many as 27 locals have been killed in 52 crocodile attacks reported in the densely forested and sparsely populated state on Borneo island. Between the years 2000 and 2009, 19 people died in 43 attacks by crocs.

The new policy is the result of a change in the conservation status of the species’ population in Sarawak that falls under a protocol known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

At a meeting in Johannesburg two months ago, the Conference of Parties – the protocol’s supreme decision-making body – decided to down-list and allow the harvesting of saltwater crocodiles in Sarawak. But hunting of the species will be prohibited in other parts of Malaysia.

Sarawak Forestry Department Director Sapuan Ahmad told BenarNews that, starting in 2017, the hunting, killing, and trading and exporting of crocodiles would be permitted in 10 rivers in the state: the Sadong, Sungai Tuang, Batang Kerian, Seblak, Linga, Sebuyau, Batang Lupar, Batang Saribas, Batang Baram and Bakong rivers.

“We expect to sort this out sometime by next year,” Sapuan said, adding that the department was finalizing details on and permits on the hunting, killing and trade of locally harvested crocodiles.

In Sarawak, Crocodylus porosus is protected under the Sarawak Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998. Conservation efforts over the last three decades have been blamed for an increase in the number of crocodiles.

A female crocodile can produce 800 eggs, Sapuan said, noting that the species’ survival rate is high, and a croc can live to be as old as 100 years.

“Surveys conducted from 2012 to 2014 showed that these rivers had eight to 14 crocodiles for every kilometer, with Batang Lupar having the most,” Sapuan said.

Taboo, superstition against killing crocodiles

Ruhana Hassan, the director of the aquatic science department at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, said that the move to harvest crocodiles was a positive one, but that authorities should be mindful of local customs that “killing a crocodile is a taboo one should never break.”

“Many… when it comes to crocodiles … would shy away from killing crocodiles, and they strongly believe that their lives would be in danger once they enter the water,” Ruhana told BenarNews.

“This may sound illogical but, many still hold to this belief, and that is why most communities who live along the river in Sarawak would never think of killing or even consuming crocodile meat,” Ruhana added.

WWF: harvest plan needed

Meanwhile, the Malaysian chapter of the World Wildlife Fund has called on officials in Sarawak to present a plan on controlling the trade in crocodile skin and parts to ensure that the harvest does not adversely affect the survival of the species and its ecosystem.

“The universal tagging system set out by CITES for skin identification must be detailed and complied with. Before any trade is permitted, a quota should be set and made publicly available to allow for transparency and accountability,” WWF-Malaysia Chief Executive Officer Dionysius Sharma said in a statement.

Crocodile researcher Mohd Izwanzulaini Abd Ghani expressed hope that this would be addressed before the hunt begins.

“Indeed we can kill these wild crocodiles, but where are we going to sell them? Will the locals break the taboo and hunt these crocodiles?” he said.

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