Monday, October 17, 2011

Crocodiles : To Cull or Not to Cull?

As appeared in The Star Column Midin Salad by Yuji

"The law says no, scientists call for better management, while for families of victims, there is no option to killing the reptiles wholesale.

IN JULY, controversy arose when state authorities allowed a culling operation along Sebelak River, some 280km from Kuching.

That mission, which lasted a week and with just one reptile killed, followed the death of croc attack victim Mankay Gohen, 42, earlier in May.

Last Saturday, tragedy struck again swiftly and in near total darkness in the same river.
At roughly 4.30am, lifelong fisherman Sulaiman Abdullah, 66, was finishing up a day’s work. He was pulling a protective canvas over some 3kgs of fish and shrimps in his small boat when he was attacked and pulled under.

The victim’s son, Endoi Sulaiman, was an eyewitness. He said his dad surfaced two minutes after the incident.

“He held onto the side of his boat for a few seconds. I don’t think he made a sound, then he was pulled under again. Just gone. Just like that,” recalled Endoi, 41.

The victim was the patriarch of a family of five children and seven grand kids. The Sulaiman family lives close to Saratok at Kampung Melayu Roban.

A kopitiam tauke described his friend Sulaiman as a quiet and honest man, who led a hard and simple life. “His catch was usually quite good. We bought a lot from him and his son over the years,” he said.

The victim’s family are urging authorities to restart culling operations. They say their loss was a reminder that crocodiles and humans could hardly co-exist. Under the present state laws, crocodiles are protected species. This is being reviewed.

To cull or not to cull? Opinions on this vary. More often than not, urban folk say they want crocodiles to remain fully protected, while rural folk want the reptile’s population controlled.
As for me, I’m without a clear opinion on the matter, especially after meeting Sulaiman’s family.
On one hand, I agree that the killing of any protected species must not be encouraged; yet, when you listen to families like Sulaiman’s relating their fears and being hapless against the predator, you find yourself taking their side.

Sulaiman’s wife, Fatimah Entigue, 57, explained, “Of course we all knew the risks, but when you can’t do much to earn money, you stick to whatever you’ve always known.”

Crocodiles are classified as “Appendix One” protected species under the globally recognised “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna”. Sarawak adheres to those international rules, more commonly known as the “Washington Convention”.
But next month, Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) will present a landmark paper at the “International Crocodile Conference” here, urging the global community to reclassify crocodiles from “Appendix One” to “Appendix Two” protected species.

SFC views the proposal as enabling “better management” of crocodile population, its spokesperson told The Star.

He said the state-owned company was confident of winning over public sentiment.
“The number of crocodiles has been increasing over the years in Sarawak, although a lot of people don’t want to accept that fact,” he said.

“Now there are some rivers that are too dense with crocodiles. Our proposal already has several international experts’ support.”

In SFC’s latest survey, Bako River and Santubong River are believed to have the highest crocodile population in Sarawak, at an estimated 3.4 crocodiles per km. (Presently, SFC does not have a statewide estimate of the crocodile population.)

For Universiti Malaysia Sarawak social scientist Dr Andrew Aeria, culling cannot be the only long-term solution to croc attacks.

Dr Aeria points to a wider set of social-economic problems rural fishing communities face. It’s all to do with poverty, he said.

“Don’t just blame the crocodiles. Crocodiles will do what they do naturally. The government must look at poverty factors.

“At places where there is no water supply, people bathe in the river. When there is no jetty for fishermen, there are more risks,” Dr Aeria said.

“We should not think too badly of the crocodiles. Instead, see it this way: Every attack is partly testament to society’s neglect of the poor.”

So, to cull or not to cull? For people in the interior, for those who depend entirely on rivers as a food and income source, their sentiment on culling is clear.

It is now up to the authorities to make a clear and convincing case for their proposed reclassi-fication. No doubt, there will be objections.

But in stating whatever objections we have, as a society we must also act on the wider set of problems facing our poor.

To cull or not to cull? Your thoughts?" By Yuji, Midin Salad Column, The Star.

The International Crocodile Conference organised by Sarawak Forestry Corporation in Kuching, Sarawak this week (19-21st October) aims to explore these very questions. Would it be a win-win solution for both man vs wild or yet again another triumph over nature by man, croc handbags and belts as trophies for the victor.

Which side of win-win are you on? Every year 6,500 human lives are lost in road accidents; in the past 50 years, 100 Sarawakian lives were taken by crocodiles ... the measure at which we are dealing with the lost seems hugely in imbalance, perhaps we should take cars off the roads instead. To me, it's clear that the smartest living reptile alive is being made scapegoat by those with less gray matter than it.

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