Authorities launch hunt for man-eating crocodile in Palawan town

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines – Environment authorities on Friday, November 30, began their search for a saltwater crocodile believed to have killed a fishermen in Balabac, an island town in southernmost Palawan. 

The joint enforcement teams of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) and the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center (PWRCC) headed to Balabac Friday morning for the extraction of the crocodile from the wild.

“The main purpose [of the operation] is to locate, and capture the problem crocodile,” PCSD spokesman Jovic Fabello confirmed to Rappler. 

He said the composite team has already consulted the municipal government and the family of the victim, and started “assessing the area and setting up traps” on Friday afternoon.

Fabello pointed out that the incident met the protocol for removing crocodiles in the wild. 

“The suspected crocodile is more than 10 feet long, the incident occurred during the courting season of crocodiles, the crocodile is not within its normal behavior pattern, and it is always seen less than one kilometer away from the shoreline of the area,” he explained.

The operation began two days after authorities recovered the mutilated body of 33-year-old Cornelio Bonete, a resident of Barangay Poblacion 5. Bonete's relatives reported thim missing after he checked his fishing boat the day before and did not return since then.

Bonete’s body was found in Sitio Bual, Barangay Malaking Ilog. His right arm and left foot were both severed from his body, while the right foot was broken. There were also multiple wounds all over the victim’s body, most probably caused by crocodile bites, police said.

Balabac is known for recurrent human-crocodile conflicts, being the stronghold of saltwater crocodiles in the Philippines. Last month, a 16-year-old high school student survived a crocodile attack also in Barangay Poblacion 5. 

In February, another fisherman was attacked and partially consumed by a crocodile in the same town.

Crocodile expert Rainier Manalo reminded Balabac residents to be wary as November starts the crocodiles’ breeding or mating season. He said it lasts until February, while their egg-laying season falls in March until August.  

“During this time crocodiles are very active and highly protective in their territories,” Manalo, program head of Davao-based non-profit Crocodylus Porosus Philippines Inc, previously told Rappler.   

Manalo's group has been continuously studying years of human-crocodile conflict in Balabac. They attribute the crocodile attacks to the increase in habitat loss due to mangrove conversion and debarking in major areas in town.   

“Human-crocodile conflict is not easily prevented if there's an increasing habitat destruction,” the crocodile expert said. 

PCSD, an environment agency tasked to implement R.A. 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, said its communication team, alongside the municipal government staff, recently conducted a crocodile awareness campaign in affected barangays in Balabac. 

Authorities have also installed warning signs reminding vulnerable residents to stay away from river swamps identified as crocodiles’ habitat.

Crocodiles captured by authorities are brought to the crocodile farm in Puerto Princesa, a crocodile sanctuary. – Rappler.com