the crocodile and the flies of bunawan
they believe they caught the biggest saltwater crocodile alive
the same crocodile that they think feasted on their
water buffaloes, the same crocodile
they hold responsible for
of a farmer
a moon ago
the same crocodile
which must have exhausted
their chief hunter to his quietus some days back.
the hunters are happy they will get paid
a handsome fee for keeping
the crocodile restrained,
but they tense up
to tell one another:
there could still be a bigger one
out there in the marshes, perhaps a mate
that in time while we sleep will become mighty deadlier.
and the flies that herald the news to the other flies
linger on to keep vigil on the crocodile’s snout,
buzzing, humming but mostly bemoaning
the dried-up cake of blood
and the sullied bits
of last night’s
© SSJ 2011
Bunawan is a backwater municipality in the province of Agusan del Sur in Mindanao, Philippines. It is one of the towns surrounding the vast Agusan marshland, a 15,000 hectare wildlife sanctuary, that is nevertheless being navigated daily by the townspeople surrounding the wetlands: people trying to eke out a living by fishing in the marshes, or moving their wares from one town to the other, or travelling to schools and service centers on light drift boats, flimsy dug-out canoes or crude bamboo rafts.
The town earned its 15 minutes of fame, or more accurately, some 18 months of fame (or notoriety, depending on how one looks at it), when on Sept. 3, 2011, a 3-month long hunt by local villagers, later on joined by the more experienced crocodile hunters of another Philippine island, Palawan, finally caught what became known as the largest crocodile in captivity (see a YouTube video here about the capture). The huge reptile was named Lolong, after Ernesto “Lolong” Goloran Cañete, a veteran crocodile hunter from the Palawan Crocodile and Wildlife Reservation Center, who led the hunting party for weeks until he succumbed to a heart attack a few days before the crocodile was captured.
Lolong is of the crocodylus porosus species, a saltwater crocodile that is considered as the most dangerous extant crocodilian to humans. He was suspected of chomping off the head of a 12-year old girl as she paddled her way to school in 2009. In June of 2011, a fisherman went missing and was presumed to have also been savaged by Lolong while fishing in the wetlands. The spate of crocodile attacks on boats, water buffaloes and other livestock around the marshes during this period finally compelled the authorities to conduct its own search and hunt along with the villagers of the marshlands who were convinced that the only way to protect themselves was to hunt down all the crocodiles and remove them from the marsh.
Lolong, in captivity, was measured by zoologist Adam Britton for the Natural History New Zealand and the National Geographic in November 2011, and in June 2012, based on Britton’s measurement and the evidence provided by the National Geographic Wild’s program Monster Croc Hunt, the Guinness World Records declared Lolong to be the largest crocodile in captivity at 6.17 meters (20.24 feet). Additionally, according to Britton, Lolong also weighed 1075 kgs. (2370 lbs) at the time of captivity, thus edging out the crocodylus porosus record-holder, Cassius, a giant at 5.48 meters (18.0 feet) in length and weighing around 998 kgs. (2200 lbs), being cared for at Marineland Melanesia, Green Island, Queensland, Australia.
On February 10, 2013, Lolong flipped over on his back and died in the shallow pond enclosure that became his miserable domicile in the so-called Bunawan Eco-Park. The park was a hastily, and cheaply, prepared center ostensibly set up to care for the giant crocodile. This park, according to Bunawan’s mayor Edwin “Cox” Elorde, had ‘saved’ the crocodile from villagers who would have probably killed it immediately if they caught the crocodile without government supervision. The center promptly started charging entrance fees of P20.0 (around US$ 0.50 or so in 2011-2012) for each adult ‘eco-tourist’ visiting the center from far and wide, and a little bit more for those visitors for whom the park would drain Lolong’s pond for a few minutes so the gawkers can better view his full-length body glistening on the cement flooring of the pool.
The necropsy done on Lolong’s carcass revealed that he died from multiple organ failure (congestive heart failure, lipidosis of the liver, kidney failure) resulting in a compromised immune system that was compounded by fungal pneumonia and extreme bad weather, with experts suggesting that the impairment of Lolong’s health, among other things, may have been due to unusual stress of how he was kept in captivity, not captivity itself. Cassius, who was Guinness World Records title-holder on being the largest captive crocodile before Lolong ousted him, has been in captivity since 1984 and in a smaller pond than Lolong’s. Cassius is now over a hundred years old. Lolong is believed to have lived only a little over 50 years old.
Guinness World Records promptly restored the world record back to Cassius as the largest crocodile in captivity.
Meanwhile, the people of Bunawan continue to dream about the crocodiles of the marshland. Some of its officials were quoted to be planning to further develop the Bunawan Ecopark to include the construction of cottages, lodging houses or inns, swimming pools, amphitheatre, laboratory and research center, souvenir shops, pavilions and other amenities, considering that there could be more than 5000 crocodiles out there in the Agusan marshes, some giants that could be bigger than Lolong.
The flies of Bunawan might just call the next captive giant “Lolonger”.
— SSJ, 7 October 2017
Video: The capture of Lolong by the crocodile hunters of Bunawan