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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Agusan del Sur town mourns Lolong

DAVAO CITY -- Bunawan, a remote town in Agusan del Sur province, has gone into mourning over the death of “Lolong,” the world’s largest saltwater crocodile in captivity, even though it was blamed for the deaths of several villagers.

The town plans to preserve the remains of the one-ton crocodile in a museum to keep tourists coming and stop the community from slipping back into obscurity, Mayor Edwin Elorde said Monday.

Lolong was declared dead at 8:12 p.m. Sunday, February 10, after being found floating on its back with a bloated stomach in a pond in an ecotourism park which had begun to draw tourists, revenue and development because of the immense reptile.

"The whole town, in fact the whole province, is mourning," Elorde said. "My phones kept ringing because people wanted to say how affected they are."

He said various religious groups offered prayers Monday and spiritual leaders also planned to perform a tribal funeral rite, which involves butchering chickens and pigs to thank forest spirits for the fame and other blessings the crocodile has brought.

The rite will be held at the ecotourism park, where the reptile was a star attraction.

The mayor also said in a press conference at the municipal hall on Monday that all speculations about the cause of Lolong's death are nothing but speculations until after a necropsy, which will be done once representatives from the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) who were the ones spearheading the capture of Lolong, arrive.

The wildlife experts who will perform an autopsy were scheduled to arrive around 5 p.m. Monday in Davao City and will motor to Bunawan right after. However, no report as to the cause of Lolong’s death was available as of this posting Monday.

Despite the refusal of local government officials to speculate on what could have killed Lolong, veterinarian Roberto P. Puentespina Jr., who has volunteered for wildlife rescue and rehabilitation through the years, said it is common for captured crocodiles that are put on public display to die after a short while, especially if these are from the wild.

"Yan always problem with captive crocs on public display, nagkaka-hardware disease," he said in a text message.

"Hardware disease is a term used for animals who get primarily digestive upsets after ingesting hardware materials like ropes, nails, wood, plastic packaging materials, wires, etc," he added.

For example, hard objects like nails and wires can puncture the stomach, pierce blood vessels and sometimes even the aorta causing extreme discomfort and death, Puentespina said.

On Monday, Lolong was still in his cage but already in a giant crate, which the caretaker said contained ice, to preserve him until the PAWB officials arrive.

Lolong was captured September 3, 2011 after days of stakeout and 21 traps set out by the Palwan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center.

Lolong was named after PWRCC's Ernesto "Lolong" Coñate for whom the crocodile's capture was attributed. Conate died after that long stakeout leading to the crocodile's capture.

The crocodile weighed 1,075 tons when captured after claims that he was the one who is behind the disappearance of a fisherman in July 2011. The crocodile is also accused of eating a child and several water buffalos.

But residents of Agusan marsh, where Lolong lived for decades, do not believe that Lolong did all these. There are other crocodiles in the marshland, they said.

The Manobos who live in floating houses inside the marsh have coexisted in harmony with the crocodiles. But destructive forms of fishing, like using electricity and chemicals to kill fishes, have made the crocodiles aggressive. This is because there is no longer enough fish for the crocodiles to feed on, and they are also affected by the chemicals and electricity, making them attack.

The illegal fishing practices are slowly being discouraged for around two years now, and marshland residents are now reverting to their old ways of using fish traps; in the process helping sustain the water resources of the marsh. This ensures a steady supply of fish for the crocodiles, as well.

Roselyn P. Tahil, business manager of Tribung Manobo of Sitio Panlabuhan in Loreto, Agusan del Sur, was distressed upon seeing the crate that contained Lolong, which as of Monday was still inside the cage where Lolong was made to live since his capture.

"Ngano man nila intawon gibutang diha si Lolong, uy (Why did they ever place Lolong inside such a cage)," she asked.

Babanto has lived in the marshland all her life.

"Ang akong anak gani, elementary pa gani 'to nagsulti na, gamay daw kaayo ang gisudlan ni Lolong, nga dako man unta kaayo ang iyang tinood nga puy-anan. Mao 'to, wala gyud ko nitan-aw kay Lolong (My child who is still in elementary asked, after a field trip to the eco-tourism park of Bunawan where Lolong's cage, why Lolong's cage was so small when his real habitat is a very big marshland. That's the reason why I never went to see Lolong)," she said.

Made to comment on Lolong's death, Worldwide Fund for Nature-Philippines (WWF-Philippines) CEO and Vice-Chairman of the Board of Trustees Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan said, "Lolong projected the unimaginable magnificence of Estuarine Crocodiles. It is ironic that the largest known representative of this species that survived the mass extinction of crocodiles, has died after barely two years in the 'care' of humans."

"We must learn to be much less presumptuous about what we know and about what we do not," he added.

Until after the necropsy, the local government of Bunawan still does not have any final plans on what to do with Lolong's cadaver.

Lolong weighed 1.075 ton when captured in the marshland of Bunawan.

Lolong was suspected to have eaten one fisherman, 52-year-old Daniel Austerio, who was reported missing last July 2011. Several water buffalos were also eaten by the said crocodile with one resident having been able to take footage of Lolong while devouring the beast of burden. (With AP/Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)
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