How captivity killed Lolong

MANILA, Philippines – In September 2011, an impoverished town in southern Philippines made world headlines when a giant saltwater crocodile was captured by local villagers after a 3-month hunt.

Bunawan, Agusan del Sur then became home to Lolong, certified in May 2012 by Guinness World Records as the world's largest crocodile in captivity.

Thousands of tourists flocked to see the gargantuan reptile, measured at 6.17 meters or almost 21 feet from the tip of its snout to the end of its tail.

For a year and a half, the Bunawan local government charged P20 per person to see the crocodile, or more for visitors willing to pay an extra fee for the crocodile's pond to be emptied so Lolong's full body would be exposed.

However, that practice, and other failures of the local government to comply with instructions from the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) ultimately led to the animal's tragic death last February 10.

The department lacks the law enforcement resources to make the local officials follow their recommendations or comply with their instructions, and only have two veterinarians -- 3, including Lim herself -- to cover the whole country.

Grassroots education programs, partnerships with other government agencies such as the Department of Tourism and setting aside more budget for conservation would help the PAWB to better fulfill its mandate, Lim and Alcala said.

In the case of Lolong, Alcala called for the establishment of a strict protocol on how to deal with exceptional animals like Lolong, which he called a "natural treasure."

"The DENR and its offices have allowed local government units to do something along the lines of taking care of wildlife, but I think there are no specific protocols in the case of specific, unique animals like Lolong. I think this is needed because an animal like Lolong, a natural treasure, should have been under the care of the relevant government agency, and that is the DENR," noted the 85-year-old marine biologist and winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Good Governance in 1992.

If this policy had been followed with Lolong, he said, the crocodile would probably have lived not 50 but 100 years. -