MANILA, Philippines — What a croc!
Its mighty snout wrapped tightly with ropes, a one-ton, 20-foot saltwater crocodile was captured and put on display in a town in the southern Philippines — one of the biggest such reptiles to be caught in recent years.
But shed no crocodile tears for this colossal captive.
“Lolong,” as it has been nicknamed, is about to become the star attraction of an ecotourism park — unless it is upstaged by an even larger reptile that may be still be on the loose.
Residents of Bunawan township celebrated when they captured the croc, with about 100 people pulling the feared beast from a creek by rope, then hoisting it by crane onto a truck. While the beast was safely tied up, they examined its teeth, claws and stubby legs with fascination.
Their party may have been premature, however.
After the 20-foot (6.1-meter) reptile was caught over the weekend, authorities said Tuesday an even bigger crocodile may still be lurking in creeks of the remote region in Agusan del Sur province.
The scaly skinned Lolong — which tips the scales at 1,075 kilograms — is estimated to be at least 50 years old. Wildlife officials were trying to confirm whether it was the largest such catch in the world, said Theresa Mundita Lim of the government’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau.
It was captured alive after a three-week hunt, easing some fears among the locals. A child was killed two years ago in the township by a crocodile, and a croc is suspected of killing a fisherman who has been missing since July. Last month, residents saw a crocodile killing a water buffalo.
The party thrown after Lolong’s capture “was like a feast, so many villagers turned up,” said Mayor Edwin Cox Elorde.
Wildlife official Ronnie Sumiller, who has hunted “nuisance crocodiles” for 20 years and led the team that captured Lolong, said another search was under way for the possibly larger croc that he and residents have seen in the town’s marshy outskirts.
“There is a bigger one, and it could be the one creating problems,” Sumiller said from Bunawan, about 830 kilometres southeast of Manila.
“The villagers were saying 10 per cent of their fear was gone because of the first capture,” Sumiller said. “But there is still the other 90 per cent to take care of.”
Backed by five village hunters he trained, Sumiller has set 20 steel cable traps with an animal carcass as bait in nearby vast marshland and along the creek where Lolong was caught.
Sumiller said he found no human remains when he induced the captured crocodile to vomit.
Residents of the farming town of about 37,000 people have been told to avoid venturing into marshy areas alone at night, Elorde said.
Guinness World Records lists a saltwater crocodile caught in Australia as the largest crocodile in captivity, measuring 5.48 metres. Saltwater crocodiles can live for more than 100 years and grow to 7 metres.
A website for a park called Action Adventure in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., says it is home to Utan, “King of the Crocs,” which it bills as the largest crocodile in the United States, measuring more than 20 feet. Park officials did not immediately respond to telephone calls or email requests for information about their crocodile.
Elorde said he plans to make Lolong “the biggest star” in a planned ecotourism park.
Philippine laws strictly prohibit civilians from killing endangered crocodiles, with violators facing up to 12 years in prison and a fine of 1 million pesos ($24,000).
The world’s most endangered freshwater variety, crocodylus mindorensis, is found only in the Philippines, where only about 250 are known to be in the wild.
About 1,000 of the larger saltwater type, or crocodylus porosus, like the one captured in Bunawan, are scattered mostly in the country’s southern swamplands, wildlife official Glen Rebong said.
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the enormous crocodile was captured because it was a threat to the community. He added the reptiles remind that the Philippines’ remaining rich habitats need to be constantly protected.
Crocodiles have been hunted in the Philippines by poachers hoping to cash in on the high demand in wealthy Asian countries for their hide, which is coveted for products ranging from bags and shoes to cellphone cases.