Crocodile sightings triple in Malaysia

PETALING JAYA - There were almost thrice as many sightings of crocodiles last year than in 2015.

Statistics from the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) showed that there were 33 reports of such sightings last year, while in 2015, there were 12 reports and nine in 2014.

During the past three months, crocodiles have made cameo appearances in the heart of towns such as Klang and Kota Kinabalu, and even in a Penang market.

Perhilitan biodiversity conservation division director Dr Pazil Abdul Patah said the increase in sightings could be due to weather and habitat disruption.

"The high-tide phenomenon in several areas has led water from the sea to go into nearby areas.

"Several rivers have overflowed, leading to wild animals migrating from one river to another," he said.

The high-tide phenomenon is set to continue this year.

"The disruption of their natural habitat and the increasing disappearance of rivers with banks have also led to crocodiles trying to find new areas to rest in the sun," he said.

Crocodile expert Dr Luke Evans said these reptiles posed little risk to humans unless they ventured in or are very close to the water.

The post-doctoral researcher at the Carnegie Institute for Science, and is based in Sabah, said: "Crocodiles are ambush hunters and are known to study repetitive behavioural patterns of prey species.

"On any given day, any person going to the riverbank is very unlikely to be attacked."

However, he said the public still needed to take precautions when they are close to waters known to be inhabited by crocodiles.

He said the increase in crocodile sightings could also be due to the natural recovery of the crocodile population in the country.

"Crocodiles in Malaysia have been protected for around 35 years, so there has been a natural recovery of populations over that time," he added.

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak crocodile researcher Mohd Izwan Zulaini Abd Ghani said plantations expanded into remote rivers, destroying their natural habitats.

He also spoke of a common practice in Sarawak where people threw food waste into rivers.

"Some crocodiles like to stay near human settlements because these wastes include animal carcasses and parts. The smell of blood attracts them," he said.

"Overfishing in rivers also depletes food resources for crocodiles, forcing them to go on land for food," added Mohd Izwan.

"Pollution also drives crocodiles out from the rivers."

Riverine communities in Sarawak believe killing a crocodile is bad luck, thus adding to their numbers.

Mohd Izwan, who is doing his PhD on crocodiles focusing on ecology and human-crocodile conflicts, said there were 52 human-crocodile conflicts reported between 2010 and August 2016 with 27 deaths.

Sarawak Forest Department director Sapuan Ahmad had said before that surveys have shown there were about 20,000 wild crocodiles in rivers in the state.

Ten rivers have eight to 14 crocodiles per kilometre.