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Rise in crocodile sightings linked to habitat degradation in Indonesia

  • The capture of a saltwater crocodile by Indonesian villagers last February was the latest in a series of increasingly frequent — and occasionally deadly — sightings of the reptiles near human settlements.
  • The animal was eventually released by the local conservation agency into an unsettled area.
  • Conservation officials say the destruction of the crocodiles’ habitat by blast fishing and conversion of coastal areas into farms may be driving the animals out of the wild and closer to villages.
  • Officials have called on villagers not to harm the animals if they catch them, given that they’re a protected species under Indonesian law.

AMBON, Indonesia — Last February, a crocodile in eastern Indonesia crawled right into a trap.

The animal, a 2-meter-long (6.6-foot) saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), was suspected to have preyed on people’s livestock in Hatusua, a village on the island of Seram in Indonesia’s Maluku province. So the villagers went on the offensive: Using a dead chicken as bait, they lured the animal out into the open, and then bound it with fishing lines and beat it. Only then did they hand it over to the local wildlife conservation agency, or BKSDA, which later released the crocodile into an area far from any human settlement.

In Hatusua, though, the locals remain worried that more crocodiles could strike again.

“There might be others nesting in [the river],” said Ongen, a Hatusua resident. “I hope the [BKSDA] officers look more closely at this. We’re afraid of crocodiles.”

Villagers in Maluku province recently captured a wild saltwater crocodile they suspect had been preying on their livestock. Image by Nurdin Tubaka/Mongabay Indonesia.
The 2-meter-long crocodile was eventually released into the wild by the local conservation agency. Image by Nurdin Tubaka/Mongabay Indonesia.

The incident in Hatusua is one of a growing number of crocodile sightings near villages in Maluku, according to the provincial BKSDA office, which recorded 21 crocodile sightings since March last year. According to the agency, Maluku tops the nation in crocodile sightings close to human settlements.

Two of those incidents were fatal: Nyongker Wailissa, 37, and Adamik Batalata, 48, were killed in separate crocodile attacks while fishing.

“Only his right leg was found,” Mukhtar Amin Ahmad, the Maluku BKSDA chief, said of Nyongker.

The BKSDA is looking into what might be behind the growing number of crocodile sightings. Mukhtar said he believed it might be driven by damage to the reptiles’ habitat from blast fishing, where explosives are used to stun fish for easy collection. Depletion of local fish stocks might be another factor, he said, as well as conversion of coastal habitats into farms.

Saltwater crocodiles prefer rivers or estuaries with murky water, plenty of tree logs or roots, an abundant food supply, and far from human activities, Mukhtar said. The agency has advised locals to remain vigilant, particularly when fishing.

The agency has also called on locals catching saltwater crocodiles to keep the animals alive. The species is protected under the country’s Conservation Act, which prescribes jail sentences and fines for any harm done to protected species. The BKSDA says locals should immediately report any crocodile sighting to the authorities.

“The people will feel safe, and the crocodiles won’t be abused,” Mukhtar said.

In an interview with Mongabay Indonesia, Mukhtar Amin Ahmadi described the capture of the saltwater crocodile last February:

This story was first reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and published here and here on our Indonesian site on March 1 and 20, 2019.

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