The Agusan Marsh, where Lolong the giant crocodile was captured, has tremendous potential for ecotourism but it must be studied well to avoid fatal crocodile-human encounters.
In earlier times when sea levels were higher, it is not difficult to imagine the free ingress of brackishwater crocodiles into the Marsh. More recently, humans have hunted the reptiles for leather and meat, from the 1960s until 1994 when the Marsh came under the National Integrated Protected Area System. NIPAS inclusion effectively stopped most crocodile hunting in the Marsh (already declared a national and international wetland sanctuary by Pres. Proclamation 913 and the RAMSAR Convention, respectively).
Guesstimates are made of some 5,000 crocodiles in the Marsh, and options to build a bigger facility vs enclosing a portion of the natural habitat for Lolong are debated. Sadly lacking in all these is science – without accurate information, possible human-crocodile encounters will continue.
All it takes is one, just one, attack on a tourist, and Agusan del Sur can forget its dreams of ecotourism.
The Workshop will assess what is known of brackishwater crocodiles both in the Marsh and elsewhere, point out information gaps, and prioritize research topics.
What is the niche of C. porosus in the vast Marsh ecosystem? How many of these reptiles are in the swamps and rivers, in what sex ratios and sizes? What is the carrying capacity of the Marsh for crocodiles? for humans? for humans AND crocodiles?
Do crocodiles mate for life? What is their breeding, parental and other behavior? Where exactly along the
Agusan River, or in the Marsh (other than Lake Mihaba) do they rest, feed, nest and undertake the daily activities of crocodile life?
(Growing up in flood-prone Butuan City, I would listen to tales of crocodiles leaving their river haunts to take a swim in inundated city streets during the rainy season.).
J.H. Primavera, Ph.D is an Agusanon by birth and biologist by profession and he call on the DENR-PAWB/ DOST/other national agencies to organize such a workshop, the local government officials of Agusan del Sur and Caraga Region to provide the logistics, and for all to fund the research needed to estimate harvest quotas for culling, to delineate safe navigational routes, and to delimit settlement areas out of harm’s way for Manobos and other Marsh residents.
In this manner does the Marsh – the Middle Basin of the 1.2 million-ha Agusan River Basin that dominates Eastern Mindanao – act as a sponge to absorb the waters from the Upper Basin and regulate their downstream flow saving Agusan del Norte, Butuan City and the rest of the Lower Basin from catastrophic
floods. Mindanaoans and Filipinos from all over should have the opportunity to visit the Agusan Marsh at least once in their lifetime, as much for its ecological importance as its magical beauty.