Croc alert!

SINGAPORE - Croc alert!

Spotted!

These beady-eyed creatures have increasingly been spotted in Singapore's northern wetlands.

Back in 2008, the National Parks Board confirmed "a resident pair" in the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

But according to a report in The Straits Times in June, more saltwater crocodiles, the world's largest living reptiles and one of the most fearsome predators, have moved into Singapore waters.

Experts say up to 10 of the reptiles now live along Singapore's north-western coast.

Most are within the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, but some are known to roam the Kranji Reservoir too. Crocodiles were also spotted at the intake bund area at the reservoir, confirmed a spokesman from national water agency PUB.

On Aug 9, a few kayakers spotted two crocodiles sunbathing and another larger one at Lim Chu Kang, and posted the pictures on citizen journalism site Stomp.

What?

A saltwater crocodile, also known as saltie, estuarine or Indo-Pacific crocodile, is the largest of all living reptiles, as well as the largest terrestrial predator in the world.

While the males can reach sizes of up to 7m and weigh as much as 2,000kg, the females are much smaller and often do not exceed 3m in length.

As its name implies, this crocodile can live in salt water, but can also live in brackish mangrove swamps, estuaries, deltas, lagoons and lower stretches of rivers.

Crocodiles are ambush hunters that rely on stealth to sneak up on their prey, and are extremely well camouflaged, says Mr Bernard Santhosh, assistant curator at the Singapore Zoo.

"They can easily be mistaken for a floating log," he says.

Salties have a fearsome reputation. In April this year, a man was attacked by a crocodile while swimming along a stretch of Australia's northern coast.

Worried? Yes

Some citizens are concerned about the presence of these large predators, and their increased numbers.

Remisier and wildlife enthusiast Mr Chua Chin Leng, 64, for one, is convinced that a "tragedy can easily happen", and that it's merely "a matter of time" before it strikes.

He claims to have seen six of them at a go.

"I'm not as worried about the areas within the reserve as the visitors are typically standing on elevated platforms," he says.

"But the Kranji World War II battleground area that is a short distance away attracts many adults and children who enjoy picnics, especially on weekends and holidays.

"Even where there are signs, many visitors do not believe there are crocs.

"That is how ugly accidents can happen. The rangers need to warn these visitors and maybe more signs need to be put up," says the avid wildlife photographer.

His logic? It's happened before with wild boars. Nobody thought they were much of a threat until one appeared in Bishan Park and injured a child.

In April last year, the Ministry of Education (MOE) stopped all water-based activities at its Jalan Bahtera Adventure Centre after a crocodile was spotted in the waters off Lim Chu Kang.

The ban continued into the beginning of the school holidays in May last year.

When The New Paper on Sunday asked MOE if water activities and nature excursions were still on in areas like Sungei Buloh and Kranji Reservoir, a spokesman said that each school has the autonomy to decide the type and location of excursions or learning trips suitable for their students.

However, all of them will take cues from NParks, which issues advisories on the safety measures required when visiting such areas.

Safety hazard? No

Biological services expert Mr N. Sivasothi says the crocodiles spotted pose little or no danger to visitors.

"Human beings mean trouble to them. We're only seeing the estuarine crocodiles at lengths of between 1m and 3m, which is not their full size," says the lecturer at the National University of Singapore, who also does research at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.

"At these sizes, an average person is not what they want to take on, because we're too large. Besides, our swamps are not large enough to support the dietary and other needs of large crocodiles," he says.

He says the crocodiles are visiting from Johor Baru, Malaysia, where there is significant development going on. "We're very lucky to see them," says the Mr Sivasothi.

Australia-based zoologist Adam Britton, who specialises in crocodiles, expressed a similar view. Saltwater crocodiles were historically found in Singapore but appear to have been absent for several decades, he says.

"To be honest, I think it's great that crocodiles can be found again in Singapore. Saltwater crocodiles have a fierce reputation and undoubtedly can be dangerous, but they are just like any other wild animal.

"If they are treated with respect and proper safety is practised around them, there's no reason why they can't be tolerated and enjoyed by visitors," he tells TNPS in an e-mail interview.

"A major component of the tourism industry in northern Australia focuses on seeing saltwater crocodiles in the wild, for example.

"In such small numbers in Singapore, the crocodiles are most likely to be shy and wary of people, so getting a glimpse and a photograph of one is quite a thrill," he says.

Visitors to the nature reserve should stay on the visitor routes, says an NParks spokesman.

Crocodile warning signs have been posted in parts of the reserve where they are most often seen, she says. Visitors who encounter a crocodile on the path should stay calm and back away slowly.

They should also call the reserve's information counter at 6794-1401 for help.


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