Seven foot crocodile stranded in Zamboanga after Typhoon Hagupit

crocodileManila: A seven foot (1.89 metre) long saltwater crocodile that was swept away and trapped in a mangrove wall of the Sulu Sea when Typhoon Hagupit entered central Philippines last week was stranded in Zamboanga City with authorities failing to transport it to a government-run crocodile conservation centre in Palawan, southwestern Philippines as scheduled on Friday, a senior official said.

Pangutaran, a juvenile rocodylus porous remained in a crate when it arrived from Sulu to Zamboanga City aboard a Philippine Navy’s multipurpose attack craft. “It travelled from Sulu where we rescued him,” Vernica de Guzman, director of the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Centre told Gulf News in a phone interview.

“When placed inside the crate, Pangutaran was not sedated. It was loosely restrained and his eyes covered by cloth,” said de Guzman, adding Pangutaran was not given food.

“A newly-rescued reptile is not fed. Pangutaran is not expected to eat within a month. At the centre, he will undergo acclimatisation,” she explained.

It will be a long and stressful wait for Pangutaran whose crate will travel from Zamboanga to Manila and onwards to Palawan on Saturday.

”There is no direct flight from Zamboanga to Palawan,” de Guzman said.

She did not say why the military from Zamboanga which took the crocodile from Sulu, could not send the crocodile to Palawan.

De Guzman went with a team to Sulu to rescue the crocodile last Tuesday (December 9), after she was told that young male saltwater crocodile was accidentally trapped by fishermen’s net from the mangrove walls of the Sulu Sea off Sibagting, Simbahan Village in Pangaturan, one of the islands in the Sulu Sea, last Friday (December 5).

At the time, Typhoon Hagupit roared from the Pacific Ocean, landed on Samar, central Philippines, the country’s eastern seaboard, and affected northeastern parts of the southern Philippines starting Saturday.

Once Pangutaran arrives at the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Centre, it will join more than 1,000 crocodiles at the centre whose objective is to increase the number of the country’s endangered species, said de Guzman.

“Pangutaran, a rescued juvenile crocodile, will initially stay in a big tank where he will be moving freely and allowed to acclimatise in his new environment, Soon, it will be transferred to an area which has a simulated natural habitat for crocodiles, He can mingle with other crocodiles his age in a basking area made of earth,” explained de Guzman, adding the centre has areas segregating old, adult, and hatchling crocodiles.

Pangutaran was the second crocodile found in the Sulu Sea and its discovery had environmentalists speculating the area has become a natural nesting ground for crocodiles.

In November 2011, a 6.09 metre long saltwater crocodile named Lolong was caught in Bunwan creek in Agusan del Sur province in the southern Philippines. The Guinness World Record certified Lolong as the longest crocodile in captivity. It surpassed the 5.48 metre long Cassius at Australia’s crocodile park,

Lolong, however, died from stress in 2013.

A 4.17-metre long saltwater crocodile was also caught in Rio Tuba, Batarasa, Palawan late July this year.

Salt water crocodiles are considered rare and precious as they are not endemic to the Philippines.

Formerly known as the Crocodile Farming Institute, the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Centre opened in 1987 with a 1.7 million yen (Dh525,928) funding from the Overseas Technical Cooperation Agency of Japan. Japanese experts remained at the centre until 1994.

The centre sells rescued, hatched, and nurtured saltwater crocodiles to private crocodile farmers. Three out of seven are now in operation, said de Guzman who became the centre’s head in 2013.

Commercially-oriented private groups sell skins of saltwater crocodiles to luxury fashion houses in Europe. Saltwater crocodile meat is also considered an aphrodisiac and a gourmet item.

“We follow protocols in doing this,” said de Guzman, adding this activity of the centre is regulated by the Biodiversity and Management Bureau which is also managed by the department of environment and natural resources.

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