SAN MARIANO , Isabela – Twenty-two crocodiles from a reptile sanctuary here have gone missing after floods hit the Cagayan region last month.
But instead of warning the public about the danger that could be posed by the crocodiles, the Mabuwaya Foundation is asking people not to harm the reptiles should they chance upon them.
“The people do pose a threat to the crocodiles. It is our fear that crocodiles are being killed,” Mabuwaya Foundation Chief Operating Officer Marites Gatan-Balbas told the Manila Bulletin.
Balbas said that, in September last year, the sanctuary had 32 crocodiles, but when the floods hit last December, their last count yielded only 10.
According to her, crocodiles often stay in upland rivers and creeks on the edge of the northern Sierra Madre where there was enough food and less disturbance by the people.
But during floods, crocodiles are washed downstream by the strong current in rivers, and to places where there are likely more people.
“They will move back upstream by themselves, but there is a risk that people will kill them,” she said.
Balbas said the municipal government of San Mariano, as well as communities located near crocodile breeding grounds, protect the reptiles in locally conserved areas.
But she also pointed out that these sanctuaries did not have fences, which was why crocodiles could easily leave.
She also underscored that the townsfolk of San Mariano was used to the presence of crocodiles, and respected them. This was very much unlike those living in downstream areas who think Philippine crocodiles are dangerous.
“They are not. Philippine crocodiles are small, and will not attack people unless provoked,” Balbas noted.
She added that it was the “people who pose a threat to the crocodiles”.
“It’s our fear that crocodiles are being killed,” Balbas said.
She reminded the public that killing crocodiles was illegal because the reptile is protected under the Wildlife Act.
Balbas stressed that the Philippine crocodile was among the rarest crocodile species in the world.
The Philippine crocodile can grow up to a maximum length of three meters, but most adults measuring only between 1.5- and 2.5-meter long.
As such, only the smaller crocodiles are swept away by strong currents.
And it was more likely that the crocodiles that the public would encounter are the smaller ones, measuring less than one-meter long, Balbas said.