I have always been fascinated by nature and wildlife especially since most of it can be found in the region where I was born: Caraga, which is located in the northeastern portion of Mindanao. One of the creatures that I find most amazing is the saltwater crocodile scientifically known as Crocodylus porosus.
During my elementary days, my grandmother used to tell the story about how people trapped several crocodiles after a great flood that hit my home city of Butuan back in the 70’s. My childhood fascination grew when I actually saw a stuffed 4-feet-long crocodile on display at the back of our neighbor’s home! The creature was one of those crocodiles that were caught after the flood.
In 2002, I visited the fishing town of Del Carmen in Siargao Island hoping to shoot some footages of saltwater crocodiles for a documentary project. We failed in our pursuit. Later on, we met some locals who loudly bragged how they killed all the saltwater crocodiles in sight and how they’ll continue their ‘crusade’ if they would ever see more.
So I turned my attention to one of the most ecologically significant wetlands in the Philippines, the Agusan marsh. But back then all I got were tales instead of tails—my fascination was also starting to fade over the years.
When I first heard the news of the capture of a large saltwater crocodile in the town of Bunawan in Agusan del Sur in September of 2011, I wanted to go straight to the scene. But my work and a meager and almost non-existent budget kept me from going there.
The other day, I got the chance to travel to Bunawan. The three-hour drive from Butuan City was worth it. Finally, I was going to see the internationally famous saltwater crocodile.
Six months after the visit of Australian zoologist and crocodile expert Dr. Adam Britton, Lolong was officially certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s biggest crocodile in captivity, measuring from snout-to-tail at 6.17 m (20.24 ft), and weighing approximately 1075 kg (2370 lbs).
I’ve seen saltwater crocodiles in farms and zoos but the size of Lolong is just simply out of this world. Experts suggest that it is “just 50 years old” and might even grow more than its current size.
If you’re hoping to see the crocodile in action, prepare to be disappointed since Lolong does not move that much and spends most of his time basking—the better for the creature to store in more body heat since it is a cold-blooded predator.
Out in the wild, saltwater crocodiles are ambush predators, waiting for their prey for several hours and for the right opportunity before rushing out to attack. As cold-blooded predators, they have a very slow metabolism so they can survive long periods of time without food.
One of Lolong’s caretakers, Eutiquiano Aguillon (a.k.a. Loloy), confirmed the crocodile’s slow metabolic diet. He shares, “Three times a month, we feed him a variety of beef or pork at around 20 kilos per meal. if we don’t feed him according to schedule, then the crocodile would just ignore the food and not eat it.”
Town council member Ronald B. Nuer, who headed the Bunawan crocodilus operation project under Mayor Edwin Elorde’s direction (Executive Order no.2 Series 2011), pointed out that the local government unit will be embarking on a Php200-million site development project for the Bunawan Eco-Park and Research Center.
“The immediate project right now would be the road construction and repair from the highway leading to the ecopark and creating a pavilion for visitors. Slowly, we are getting money from groups and politicians for the development of the site,” said Nuer.
Lolong receives a hundred to a thousand tourists a day, generating a monthly average income of Php200-Php300 thousand a month and sometimes even more.
Besides its majestic attraction, a new development plan for the ecopark will soon incorporate other sustainable features such as a botanical garden, aviary, mammal zoo, camping site, restaurant, pool, and a zip line.