Local pride offers a boost to endangered crocodile

22 December 2009 | News story

One of the world’s most threatened reptiles has been given a ray of hope in the form of a community programme to reintroduce captive-bred individuals back into the wild.

With only about 100 individuals left in the wild, the Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The species is found only in the Philippines, now restricted to southwestern Mindanao and northern Luzon. It is a freshwater species, living in lakes, ponds, marshes and smaller rivers and creeks – habitats that are threatened by conversion into rice paddies. The crocodile’s populations have also been ravaged by hunting and destructive fishing methods such as the use of dynamite.

In 1999, a small population of Philippine crocodiles was found in the municipality of San Mariano in northern Luzon. Here, the Mabuwaya Foundation has been mobilizing local support for crocodile conservation. Members of IUCN’s Crocodile Specialist Group have been advising on how to breed and raise crocodiles in captivity to be released when they are big enough to survive on their own.

“Many indigenous fishermen know that the crocodiles are not dangerous because they see them even underwater while spearfishing, but other people are scared of crocodiles and kill them,” says Marites Balbas, community organizer of the Mabuwaya Foundation. “Crocodiles have an image problem. We changed this by conducting village workshops and by making crocodiles something fun through theatre shows. Communities are now protecting crocodiles in village sanctuaries and are proud that they are taking care of the last of these rare animals.”

The experiences of San Mariano were used to win community support for the reintroduction of Philippine crocodiles in Dicatian Lake, Divilacan, in the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park. Crocodiles went extinct here a few years ago as a result of fishing. The village of Dicatian has declared Dicatian Lake a crocodile sanctuary where fishing is banned. “In return we are assisting farmers in establishing fish ponds and we promote small-scale ecotourism. But these do not deliver much income,” Marites explains. “The most important reason to protect crocodiles for this community is still pride.” In July this year, 50 captive-bred Philippine crocodiles were reintroduced in the lake doubling the wild population in northern Luzon.

For more informartion contact:
Merlijn van Weerd, Mabuwaya Foundation/Leiden University and member of IUCN Crocodile Specialist Group
merlijnvanweerd@yahoo.com