While sympathizing with the family and friends of the British journalist who was killed in a crocodile attack close to Arugam Bay on Thursday, the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) has requested the government to put up risk warning boards in areas inhabited by crocodiles.
Underscoring that removing individual crocodiles — either to another locale or to a zoo — does not solve a perceived problem, as they return or another crocodile moves into the vacated area as they are territorial, a WNPS statement sent by its President Rukshan Jayewardene says that it is important to put crocodile risk warning boards in identified areas and maintain them.
“Fencing and nets are not practical in remote, rural backwaters. Information on crocodile behaviour and human behaviour that poses personal risk, should be made readily available in areas with crocodiles. Holiday makers should pay heed as the cost of being heedless is tragic and irreversible. As the saying goes an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” the WNPS says.
Pointing out that crocodile attacks are rare but not unknown and avoiding risky behaviour is the key to avoiding the possibility of attack in crocodile habitats, the WNPS explains that it is important to respect local (area residents) knowledge about crocodiles and take their advice. “After all they live with crocodiles as neighbours and go about their livelihoods.”
On September 14, a young British journalist, Paul McClean, holidaying in Sri Lanka lost his life due to a crocodile attack near Arugam Bay, on the southeast coast, the WNPS states, adding that a young life full of potential was tragically cut short. There are slightly differing accounts about this unfortunate incident, but enough can be substantiated to prompt us to issue this statement.
The WNPS states: “We are noticing a general lacuna in both knowledge and practice that may have contributed to such an incident. We would like to state the following in the interest of locals and visitors to the country so that the avoidable can be avoided.
“Estuarine crocodiles, saltwater or Indo-Pacific crocodiles, are the largest living reptiles on earth. Individuals more than 3 metres in length and weighing more than 1,000kg as adults are not rare. They grow throughout their long lives of perhaps 100 years. They are one of two species in the island and are found in suitable coastal habitats. They are also apex predators and hence a keystone species in the aquatic habitats they occupy. They are territorial and that alone may sometimes provoke an attack, rather than hunger.
“Salt water crocodiles are protected under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance of Sri Lanka. Larger individuals switch from an essentially fish and crustacean diet to mammalian prey. In this role they are classic ambush hunters and use opportunity and stealth to their advantage. They do not deliberately target humans but it is thought that humans have been part of the prey base of large crocodiles from pre-historic times.”