Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje today said that the agency is already laying the groundwork to study the population and distribution of crocodiles in the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary (AMWS) in the CARAGA region.

“This study is going to be scientific, and we will be tapping experts not only from the DENR but also from other stakeholder groups. This study will, hopefully, provide us with the necessary baseline information on the abundance and area of concentration of crocodiles within the marsh, from which we will base our short term and long term management program for the crocodiles in the Agusan Marsh,” Paje said.

The scientific study is programmed to start in November and is expected to be completed by April 2012. Joining the DENR in the exercise are representative experts from the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) of the AMWS, local academic institutions, non-government organizations, and the Crocodylus Porosus Philippines, Inc. (CPPI).

The CPPI is a private organization of six legitimate crocodile breeders in the country who source their stock from the DENR-managed Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center, formerly known as the Crocodile Farming Institute.

Paje explained that the six-month study would also involve information and education campaign to raise community awareness on preventing further crocodile attacks in the area. The study also seeks to develop local expertise on crocodile monitoring and habitat assessment, according to him.

Lolong, a saltwater crocodile caught early in September, has been touted to be the country’s biggest captive crocodile, measuring 21 feet long and 3.5 feet wide, and weighing 1,075 kilos. Residents reported, however, the presence of a bigger “nuisance” crocodile in the area.

The DENR chief reiterated the need to keep Lolong in captivity to ensure the safety of residents. At the same time, he said, Lolong provides a living specimen to orient the public on conserving crocodiles as they have an important ecological role in the wetland environment. “This way we could somehow find alternatives to promote or harmonize the co-existence of the people and the crocodiles and other wildlife species in the marsh,” Paje said.

The Agusan Marsh, with area covering 14,836 hectares, is the largest freshwater wetland in the Philippines and is said to hold the country’s largest remaining population of saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) and freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis).

Paje said that the local government unit (LGU) of Bunawan, Agusan del Sur, headed by Mayor Edwin Elorde, has already expressed full support for the study and is, in fact, a partner in developing management measures for Lolong. Such measures include the establishment of an appropriate facility or improvement of the existing one, visitor management, crocodile health maintenance, community training and information campaign, record-keeping and reporting.

In the meantime, the DENR, the PAMB, and the LGU-Banawan have already taken measures to ensure proper care and welfare of Lolong, which will remain in captivity. These include the engagement of wildlife veterinarians who shall conduct regular ocular inspection of the crododile, and provide it with multi-vitamins, minerals and other food supplements; and weekly change of the water in the pond as a sanitary measure.