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Crocodiles have an image problem in the Philippines. In mainstream Filipino society crocodiles are considered dangerous man-eaters, and compared with corrupt government officials or selfish basketball players. It is often argued that these negative public attitudes towards crocodiles make in-situ crocodile conservation impossible in the Philippines. Only by securing economic benefits for rural communities through sustainable use can crocodiles be conserved. In this paper we contest this narrow utilitarian view. In fact indigenous peoples in the northern Sierra Madre have a history of co-existence with crocodiles. In the pre-Hispanic Philippines people feared and revered crocodiles: specific rules regulated the relationship between crocodiles and people. Traditional beliefs and practices enable people to share the landscape with a potentially dangerous carnivore. This forces us to rethink conventional conservation strategies that focus narrowly on economic values.
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Environment and History 17 (2011): 229–264
© 2011 The White Horse Press. doi: 10.3197/096734011X12997574043008
A Cultural History of Crocodiles in the Philippines:
Towards a New Peace Pact?
JAN VAN DER PLOEG,
MERLIJN VAN WEERD
and
GERARD A. PERSOON
Corresponding Author:
Jan Van der Ploeg
Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology,
Leiden University
Postbus 9555
2300 RB Leiden, The Netherlands
Email: vanderploegjan@hotmail.com
ABSTRACT
Crocodiles have an image problem in the Philippines. In mainstream Filipino
society crocodiles are considered dangerous man-eaters, and compared with
corrupt government ofcials or selsh basketball players. It is often argued
that these negative public attitudes towards crocodiles make in-situ crocodile
conservation impossible in the Philippines. Only by securing economic benets
for rural communities through sustainable use can crocodiles be conserved. In
this paper we contest this narrow utilitarian view. In fact indigenous peoples in
the northern Sierra Madre have a history of co-existence with crocodiles. In the
pre-Hispanic Philippines people feared and revered crocodiles: specic rules
regulated the relationship between crocodiles and people. Traditional beliefs
and practices enable people to share the landscape with a potentially dangerous
carnivore. This forces us to rethink conventional conservation strategies that
focus narrowly on economic values.
KEYWORDS
Crocodiles, indigenous peoples, conservation ethic, Philippines.
JAN VAN DER PLOEG et al.
230
Environment and History 17.2
In March 2004, we conducted a crocodile survey along the coast of the Northern
Sierra Madre Natural Park in Isabela Province, Northeast Luzon.1 We counted
crocodiles and interviewed people on human–crocodile conicts. Hunters
explained the importance of treating crocodiles with respect and farmers told
anecdotes about enchanted crocodiles. We heard stories about spirits changing
into vengeful crocodiles. Some people told us that they were afraid of croco-
diles. Others mentioned that they had recently found a crocodile nest and had
eaten the eggs. But none of the respondents expressed a fundamental objection
to living with crocodiles. On our way back, waiting for the aeroplane, we had
a conversation with a senior government ofcial who reassured us that there
were no more dangerous crocodiles in the protected area: Moro hunters and
the military had killed and eaten them all to protect the people. Jokingly he
added that if we were looking for crocodiles we had better go to the halls of
Congress in Quezon City. We had heard this joke many times before but never
in such contrast to the perceptions of hunters, farmers and shermen as on that
day in Palanan.
INTRODUCTION
Two crocodile species occur in the Philippines: the Indo-Pacic crocodile
Crocodylus porosus and the Philippine crocodile Crocodylus mindorensis. The
Indo-Pacic crocodile, or estuarine crocodile, is widely distributed throughout
South-east Asia and Northern Australia. The species is threatened with extinction
in the Philippines but, as viable Indo-Pacic crocodile populations still exist in
Papua New Guinea and Australia, the species is not globally threatened.2 In the
Philippines, the Indo-Pacic crocodile was common on all major islands. At
present, it is restricted to a few localities on Palawan, Mindanao and Northeast
Luzon. Large individuals can pose a signicant risk to humans, as the species
can grow up to 6 m.3
The Philippine crocodile, in contrast, is a relatively small, palustrine crocodile
species: the largest individual recorded in the wild was 2.7 m. This endemic spe-
cies was widely distributed throughout the archipelago but is now restricted to
a few upland localities in North Luzon and Mindanao.4 The species is classied
as critically endangered.5 It is difcult for laymen to distinguish a Philippine
1. Over the past eight years we have conducted eldwork in the northern Sierra Madre in the
context of a research and conservation project for the Philippine crocodile (van der Ploeg et
al. 2008b).
2. IUCN 2006.
3. Webb and Manolis 1989, p. 125.
4. van Weerd and van der Ploeg 2004.
5. IUCN 2006.
A CULTURAL HISTORY OF CROCODILES
231
Environment and History 17.2
crocodile from an Indo-Pacic crocodile, especially in wild conditions.6
Commercial hunting to serve the international trade in crocodile skins
decimated crocodile populations in the Philippines.7 Crocodylus porosus is a
premium species for the crocodile leather industry and the species has been
hunted intensively in the Philippines since the 1940s. As the Indo-Pacic croco-
dile became rare, hunters shifted their attention to the Philippine crocodile. The
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and
Flora (CITES) banned the international trade in Crocodylus mindorensis skins
on 1 July 1975. Ten years later, on 1 August 1985, the Philippines’ Indo-Pacic
crocodile population was also placed on CITES Appendix 1.
Since 2004, both crocodile species have been ofcially protected under
Philippine law (by virtue of the Wildlife Act: Republic Act 9147). However, in
the socio-political context of the Philippines, environmental legislation is sel-
dom enforced: crocodiles continue to be killed for food or fun and out of fear.8
The conversion and degradation of wetland habitat pose signicant threats to
crocodiles in the Philippines and might prevent a recovery of the species.9 The
widespread use of dynamite, electricity and pesticides to maximise sh catches
also poses a heavy toll on the remaining crocodile populations. As a result the
Indo-Pacic crocodile and the Philippine crocodile have become rare in the wild:
both species face a high risk of extinction in the Philippines in the near future.
In mainstream Filipino culture, crocodiles are seen as vermin and considered
a severe threat to children and livestock.10 Crocodiles are stereotyped as ferocious
monsters or bloodthirsty man-eaters and are associated with greed and deceit:
corrupt government ofcials, selsh athletes, landlords and moneylenders are
often called buwaya, Filipino for crocodile. In the media, politicians are often
portrayed as crocodiles (Figure 1).
It is argued that these negative attitudes of the Filipino public form a major
obstacle to in-situ crocodile conservation. Since the 1980s, government policy
has been based on the idea that in order to secure the survival of crocodiles in
the Philippines, animals have to be removed from the wild and bred in captivity:
Filipinos have a strong dislike for the reptiles, especially crocodiles, due to the
reputation of the estuarine crocodile as a man-eater, causing fear for all crocodiles.
This has pushed the [Philippine crocodile] to the verge of extinction … There
is little future for Philippine crocodiles in the existing (and proposed) wildlife
6. There are several morphological differences that distinguish the two crocodile species. In
addition, there are differences in habitat preference: the Indo-Pacic crocodile is generally
restricted to mangroves, lakes and marshes in the lowlands, whereas the Philippine croco-
dile occurs mainly in upland river systems.
7. Wernstedt and Spencer 1967.
8. van der Ploeg and van Weerd 2004.
9. Ross and Alcala 1983; Thorbjarnarson 1999.
10. Ortega 1998; Banks 2005.
JAN VAN DER PLOEG et al.
232
Environment and History 17.2
FIGURE 1. In Philippine media crocodiles are associated with corruption and nepotism.
Left: A congressman portrayed as a hungry crocodile (Philippine Star, 14 December
2006). Right: President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo can’t get rid of her corrupt image
(Philippine Star, 13 December 2007)
sanctuaries, and … captive breeding is the only hope for survival for the species
until public sentiment and awareness permit effective protection.11
In this paper we contest this view. Attitudes towards crocodiles are indenitely
more complex and diverse than policy-makers, conservationists and the media
suggest.
In earlier times crocodiles were feared and revered: specic rules regulated
the relationship with crocodiles and enabled people to share the landscape with
potentially dangerous carnivores. The Spanish friars recorded these primordial
sentiments towards crocodiles in detail. Moreover such beliefs did not disap-
pear: in the uplands of the Philippines indigenous communities still associate
crocodiles with ancestors, fertility and mystic power. This veneration is expressed
in material art, architecture, music and oral tradition. More importantly, it has
played a role in the survival of the crocodiles in the Philippines. On Luzon the
Kalinga sing ballads about the relationship between chiefs and crocodiles.12 On
Palawan the Tagbanwa believe their ancestors made a blood pact with the croco-
diles to prevent attacks. And on Mindanao the T’boli weave cloth with delicate
crocodile motifs13 and the Magindanaon believe they descend from crocodiles.14
Not surprisingly these are also areas where crocodiles still survive in the wild.
11. WCSP 1997, pp. 76–79. See also Ross 1982; Ortega et al. 1993.
12. Menez 2004.
13. Paterno et al. 2001.
14. Mangansakan 2008.
A CULTURAL HISTORY OF CROCODILES
233
Environment and History 17.2
In this paper we look through W.H. Scott’s proverbial ‘cracks in the parchment
curtain’ in order to get a better understanding of the relations between crocodiles
and people in the pre-colonial Philippines and the changes that occurred in this
relationship over time.15 We present a literature overview of historical sources
on perceptions of crocodiles in the Philippines, complemented with information
from the ethnographic literature. For contemporary attitudes towards crocodiles
we mainly rely on eldwork in the northern Sierra Madre between 2001 and
2008. We adopt a historical and comparative perspective, explicitly showing
the cultural continuity of perceptions of crocodiles in both space and time.
The Kalinga in the northern Sierra Madre, for example, make rice cakes in the
form of a crocodile during healing ceremonies. Gatmaytan (2004) and Maceda
(1984) report similar healing rituals among the Manobo and the Magindanaon,
respectively. This seems remarkably akin to the offerings of rice cakes in the
form of crocodiles (binuwaya) in pre-colonial Visayas, reported by W.H. Scott
(1994). This transcends academic curiosity: the Kalinga ancestral lands in the
northern Sierra Madre form the last stronghold for the Philippine crocodile in
the wild. Here, the species survived as an unintended result of traditional values,
beliefs and practices.
Our aim in this paper is to document the views, feelings and imaginings of
the inhabitants of the Philippine Islands toward crocodiles through time and to
counter the simplistic assumption that culture hinders crocodile conservation.16
Filipino culture in all its diversity and ux is not a barrier for coexistence with
crocodiles. On the contrary, an assessment of indigenous cosmology and contem-
porary marginalised perceptions of crocodiles might offer clues for conserving
crocodiles in the Philippines in the wild in the twenty-rst century.
THE PRE-COLONIAL HERITAGE
A reconstruction of primordial sentiments towards crocodiles in the Philippines
inevitably has to cope with the bias of the Spanish conquistadores and friars.
Obviously, notes on the biology of the Philippine Islands and the cosmology of
the indios, as the native Filipinos were called, were primarily made for effec-
tive exploitation and conversion. But despite the racism and religious dogma,
the Spanish archives provide detailed information about everyday life in the
archipelago and surprisingly often mention crocodiles.17
15. Scott 1982.
16. While acknowledging our moral engagement and active involvement with crocodile
conservation in the Philippines, we do not advocate a romantic view of indigenous people
living in harmony with nature since time immemorial or aim to construct a ‘usable past’
for contemporary political gains (McNeill 2003: 15). Nor do we suggest a linear evolution
from primitive to modern ideas about wildlife.
17. We mainly relied on the 55 volumes of the Philippine Islands, 14931898 edited by
Emma Blair and James Robertson (1907). Unless otherwise indicated, we have used their
JAN VAN DER PLOEG et al.
234
Environment and History 17.2
TABLE 1. Local terminology for crocodiles in the Philippines
Area Language C. porosus C. mindorensis Reference
North Luzon Ilocano (Iloko) buaya Bokkarut Vanoverbergh 1928:
11
Cagayan Valley Itawis ? lamag pers. obs.
Ibanag binuaya/buaya/
bubuaya
bukarut/lamag pers. obs.
Yogad bwaya bukarot/lamág pers. obs.
Gaddang - lamig Reid 1971: 65
Isneg buwaya bokarót Vanoverbergh 1972
Bugkalot (Ilongot) - buwaya Aquino 2004: 290
Sierra Madre Agta (Dupaninan) ? bukahot/lamag Headland 2007 pers.
comm.
Kasiguranin buwaya ?
Dumagat buya ?
Umirey mangato (?) ?
Kalinga - lamag pers. obs.
Cordillera Bontoc - buaya/bo’waya Reid 1971: 65
Zambales Sambal buaya ? Reid 1971: 65
Central Luzon Kapampangan dapo ? Forman 1971
South Luzon Tagalog mamuaya/manbua-
ya/namumuaya
tigbin de San Antonio 1624
Bikol Bikol bu’aya barangitaw de Lisboa 1865
Masbate Masbatenyo buwaya/bwaya ? Wolfenden 2001
Mindoro Mangyan buaya barangitaw/bur-
rangás/burrang-
garis
Barbian 1977
Central Visayas Sebuano boàya/balanghítao/
balanğita
? de la Encarnacion
1885
East Visayas Waray
(Samar-Leyte)
binuaya barangitáw*Tramp 1995
Surigao Mamanwa buaja/bowaza ? Reid 1971: 65
Agusan Manobo
(Agusan)
búaya/bu’ada ngusó (?) Elkins 1968
Bukidnon Binukid
(Manobo)
bu’qaya/vuaya ? Polenda 1989: 275
Davao del
Norte
Mandaya (Man-
saka)
bowaya sapding Svelmoe & Svelmoe
1990
Lanao Maranao boaia/lotoi balangitao/
dagoroqan
McKaughan &
Macaraya 1967
Ligauasan Maguindanao
(Moro)
buhaya/bohaya ? Juanmartí 1892
Cotabato T’boli bwenghel ? Paterno et al. 2001
Zamboanga Subanon buaya ? Reid 1971: 65
Sulu Tausug buaya/buqayah ? Reid 1971: 65
Basilan Yakan buwaye - Behrens 2002
Calamian
Islands
Kalamianon bukayaq ? Reid 1971: 65
North Palawan Batak buaya bungut Eder 2006 pers.
comm.
South PalawanTagbanwa buaya bungot Reid 1971: 65
* One is tempted to conclude that barangitaw is a common name for the Philippine crocodile
in the Visayas. Marcos de Lisboa, for example, dened barangitaw in his Vocabulario de
la lengue Bicol (1865) as a ‘type of crocodile found in fast owing rivers’. However, Juan
Felipe de la Encarnacion (1885) denes the Cebuano word balanghítao as an ‘especie de
caiman muy maligno’: a very malicious caiman species. And here one would conclude
that balanghítao refers to the Indo-Pacic crocodile. To make matters more complicated,
A CULTURAL HISTORY OF CROCODILES
235
Environment and History 17.2
One of the rst and best-known written accounts of crocodiles in the Philip-
pines was made by Antonio de Morga (1609: 93–94) a high-ranking colonial
ofcer in Manila:
There are … a great number of crocodiles [in the rivers and creeks], which are
very bloodthirsty and cruel. They quite commonly pull from their bancas the
natives who go in those boats, and cause many injuries among the horned cattle
and the horses of the stock-farms, when they go to drink. And although the people
sh for them often and kill them, they are never diminished in number. For that
reason, the natives set closely-rated divisions and enclosures in the rivers and
creeks of their settlements, where they bathe, secure from those monsters, which
they fear so greatly that they venerate and adore them, as if they were beings
superior to themselves. All their oaths and execrations, and those which are of
any weight with them (even among the Christians) are, thus expressed: ‘So may
the crocodile kill him!’ They call the crocodile buhaya in their language. It has
happened when someone has sworn falsely, or when he has broken his word, that
then, some accident has occurred to him with the crocodile, which God, whom
he offends, has so permitted for the sake of the authority and purity of the truth,
and the promise of it.
As the Spanish settled in the coastal lowlands or along major river systems,
in de Morga’s case Laguna de Bay and the estuary of Pasig River, the historical
accounts most likely refer to the Indo-Pacic crocodile. Throughout the Philippine
archipelago, and indeed most of the Malay world, the Indo-Pacic crocodile was
called buwaya.18 In most parts of the Philippines, people distinguished between
the two crocodile species (Table 1). This is reected in seventeenth-century
translation of the Spanish archives. For clarity we opted to refer in the text to the date and
author of the original publication. In the literature search we have not limited ourselves to
the Philippines but have included references and historical anecdotes from insular Southeast
Asia. The article De krokodil in het leven van de Posoërs [The crocodile in the life of
the Poso] of Albert Kruyt (1906), a Dutch missionary in Sulawesi, is perhaps the most
interesting primary source on the relation between crocodiles and people in Southeast Asia.
Charles Hose and William McDougall (1901) also provide valuable insights on the relations
between crocodiles and people in the Malay world.
18. Buwaya or a derivate thereof is the common name for crocodile throughout Southeast Asia
(Table 1). In areas where both crocodile species occur, such as in the northern Sierra Madre,
buwaya refers to C. porosus and other names are used for C. mindorensis, such as lamag in
Ibanag or bukarot in Ilocano. However, in upland areas where only C. mindorensis occurs,
such as the Central Cordillera on Luzon, people have adopted the generic name for croco-
dile for C. mindorensis: buwaya.
the Cebuano word barang means ‘witch’. Thus balanghítao could best be translated as a
witch-crocodile. This shows the limitations of using ethnographic and linguistic sources for
determining the historical distribution of the two crocodile species in the Philippines.
The fact that two separate names are used for crocodiles in Batak and Tagbanwa suggests
that two crocodile species occurred in Palawan. However, there are no records of Philippine
crocodiles on Palawan (but see Schultze 1914).
JAN VAN DER PLOEG et al.
236
Environment and History 17.2
Spanish vocabularies where a distinction was often made between cocodrilo
and caimán; a nuance that was later lost in English dictionaries.19 But local tax-
onomy was indenitely more complex than this: it included ancestor-crocodiles,
spirit-crocodiles and witch-crocodiles.
Taxonomy and cosmology
De Morga’s words exemplify the paradoxical relationship between crocodiles and
men in pre-colonial Philippines. On the one hand, crocodiles posed a signicant
danger to people and livestock. Man-eating crocodiles are a recurrent theme in
the Spanish archives. The historiographer of Aragon, Bartolomé Leonardo de
Argensola (1708: 235), for example, wrote:
In the rivers and lakes are many monstrous caimans, or crocodiles; these kill the
Indians very easily, and especially the children, who happen unadvisedly to come
where they are, as well as the cattle when they go to drink. It often happens that
they lay hold of their snouts, or noses, and draw them under water, where they
are drowned, without being able to defend themselves.
On the other hand, crocodiles were venerated. The best illustration of this fact
comes from the book Labor Evangelica written in 1663 by Francisco Colin:
[The Tagalogs] held the crocodile in the greatest veneration; and, when they made
any statement about it, when they saw it in the water cried out, in all subjection,
Nono’, signifying Grandfather. They asked it pleasantly and tenderly not to harm
them; and for that purpose offered it a portion what they carried in their boats,
by throwing it into the water.
People prayed and made offerings to edices of crocodiles.20 The buwaya
was a benign symbol of physical strength, sexuality, erceness and power. In
legends and myths, heroes and chiefs were depicted as crocodiles or thought
to have personal bonds with crocodiles. 21 Warrior chiefs traced their ancestry
to crocodiles and wore necklaces made of crocodile teeth, boaia, as symbols
of their power. Crocodile teeth were also widely used as omens and as amulets
to protect the bearer from evil spirits and sickness.22 Crocodile motifs were
woven into funeral cloths and carved into cofns to protect the deceased from
19. See, for example, Long 1843, p. 88. Most of the Spanish lexicographers had spent years in
Mexico and probably knew the spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus) and the American
crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) which occupy similar ecological niches to the Philippine
crocodile and the Indo-Pacic crocodile respectively.
20. Blumentritt 1882, p. 12; Jagor 1875, p. 207; Cole 1913, p. 114.
21. Crocodiles are a popular character in Filipino folktales (Eugenio 2002, p. 19). In folktales
the crocodile is generally the dupe who is tricked by a monkey or a turtle (Fansler 1921, pp.
374–79; Hart and Hart 1966: 323; Eugenio 1985, p. 161; Eugenio 1994, p. 144).
22. de Loarca 1582, p. 130; Bowring 1859, p.157; Scott 1994, p. 82.
A CULTURAL HISTORY OF CROCODILES
237
Environment and History 17.2
evil spirits.23 Throughout insular Southeast Asia crocodiles were associated
with water and rain and thus with agricultural fertility and rice culture.24 In the
pre-colonial Philippines crocodiles were symbols of danger as well as protec-
tion, a benevolent and malevolent power at once.25 The functional interpretation
of Antonio de Morga that crocodiles were worshipped because of the danger
they posed – ‘monsters, which they fear so greatly that they venerate and adore
them’ – does not, however, do justice to the complexity of pre-colonial Philip-– does not, however, do justice to the complexity of pre-colonial Philip- does not, however, do justice to the complexity of pre-colonial Philip-
pine cosmology.
The indios in fact worshipped a variety of ancestor spirits, nature gods
and mythical creatures, which could take the form of a crocodile. First, it was
thought that the ancestors could reincarnate in crocodile form: ‘They believe
that after a certain cycle of years, the souls of their forefathers were turned into
crocodiles.’26 These benevolent ancestor spirits, called anito, were venerated
as personal guardians and secured good harvests. But they could also cause
death and destruction if not given due respect.27 Second, crocodiles could be
the embodiment of nature-gods, generally called diwata. Negrito peoples in the
Philippines, for example, believed that a large crocodile called Lahua inhabited
the earth and caused earthquakes.28 In several origin myths from the Philippines
the creator-god takes the form of a crocodile.29 These crocodile-gods were seen
as the guardians of the underworld: they were invoked to secure a safe passage
for the dead to the next life.30 Miguel de Loarca (1582: 129), an inuential
member of the Catholic clergy in Manila, wrote:
It is said that the souls of those who [are] eaten by crocodiles which is considered
a very honourable death, go to heaven by way of the arch which is formed when
it rains, and become gods. The souls of the drowned remain in the sea forever.
These crocodile-gods lived in a parallel world, often literally interpreted as
an underwater village. Third, people believed in malevolent spirits and witches,
most often called aswang, which could take the form of a crocodile.31 Father
Antonio Mozo (1673: 16), for example related that:
[I]n two islands, called Zebu and Panay … dwell a people who are called the
Mundos; they have the same barbarian characteristics of erceness and barbarism
… but they have besides this a peculiarity which renders them intractable, for
they have among them some fearful wizards. … Instructed and misled by the
23. Maxwell 1990, p. 98; Benedict 1916, p. 42.
24. Schulte Nordholt 1971; Middelkoop 1971: 437; Hose and McDougall: 198.
25. Maxwell 1990, p. 133.
26. Pablo de Jesus cited in Nocheseda 2002: 104.
27. Scott 1994.
28. Schebesta 1957, p. 276; Garvan 1963, p. 204.
29. Gray 1979.
30. Maxwell 1990, p. 98.
31. Gardner 1906, p. 195.
JAN VAN DER PLOEG et al.
238
Environment and History 17.2
demon, those barbarians do fearful things, especially to revenge themselves,
to the continual terror of those about them. The natives say that these wizards,
change into crocodiles, follow them when in their canoes, and do not stop until
they seize some person whom they hate; also that they change themselves into
other animals, in order to commit other wicked acts – as likewise that, avail-
ing themselves of various enchantments, they commit horrible murders, with a
thousand other diabolic acts.
These aswang ate people and disinterred corpses. But simple precautions, such
as making noise or avoiding being alone, could be taken against these creatures.32
It is important to note that not all crocodiles were seen as the personication
of the ancestors, gods or witches. Enchanted crocodiles could be distinguished
from normal crocodiles by having extraordinary traits, such as being very large,
docile, strangely coloured, crippled or having a necklace or four toes instead of
ve. 33 The Franciscan priest Juan Francisco de San Antonio (1738: 154) wrote:
It is denite that crocodiles do not have a tongue. However, I am told that a croco-
dile who had swallowed a man whole and was later followed and killed, the man
being found complete in its stomach, had a large black tongue. It is not known
whether this is because it was of a special type … It was the strangest one seen
by my informant during his whole life. This happened in 1736 in the Macabebe
River in Pampanga. The man who was thus swallowed was Captain Culango
who owned a tavern in the village called Manlauay, well known by the natives.34
Conversely, not all spirits were crocodiles. The anito, diwata and aswang
could manifest themselves in many possible ways, not necessarily in the form
of a potentially dangerous animal. They could also take the form of harmless
animals such as nightjars, owls, or kingshers, which were feared as much as
crocodiles.35
The peace pact
A drawing by the Tagalog artist Francisco Suárez provides a rare glimpse of
daily life in the early eighteenth century (Figure 2). Crocodiles were common
throughout the Philippine archipelago and people often lived in close proxim-
ity to them. The Spanish colonisers were puzzled by the apparently indifferent
attitude of the indios towards crocodiles. This can be best illustrated by a quote
32. Alejandro 2002; Scott 1994, p. 81.
33. Wilken 1885; Kruyt 1935. Crocodiles have ve toes on the front limb without webbing
between them. On the hind limb crocodiles have four toes, of which three are clawed and
have webbing between them. The hind limb also has a small rudiment of a fth toe.
34. The reason why crocodiles have no tongue is a popular theme in Philippine folktales
(Ratcliff 1949: 282). In fact, the tongue of all crocodile species is attached along its entire
length to the oor of the mouth, and cannot be protruded.
35. Colin 1663, p. 77; Gardner 1906, p. 193.
A CULTURAL HISTORY OF CROCODILES
239
Environment and History 17.2
of the Augustinian friar Casimiro Diaz (1890: 212–213) who lived in Pampanga
in 1717:
In another way they exhibit other rash actions, by which it is seen that their
rashness is rather the daughter of ignorance and barbarity than of valour … The
same thing happens in the rivers where there are crocodiles, although they see
them swimming about; for they say the same as do the Moros (i.e. Mahometans),
that if it is from on high it must happen, even though they avoid it … The world
is just so. If it is written on the forehead that one is to live, than he will live; but
if not, then he will die here.
In some areas people built bamboo fences as precaution against man-eaters:
the patiwa described by Antonio de Morga.36 But in general people seemed to
take not much notice of the danger posed by crocodiles and adopted no rigid
36. Nocheseda 2002: 71. Albert Kruyt, a Dutch missionary, photographed these bamboo fences
in Central Sulawesi (1906: 6).
FIGURE 2. Fragment from Murillo Velarde’s Carta hydrographica y chronographica
de las Islas Filipinas by F. Suárez (1734). Note the caption: ‘1. Caiman or crocodile
of which the rivers of these isles are full’.
JAN VAN DER PLOEG et al.
240
Environment and History 17.2
safety measures.37 During a visit to Leyte, the German ethnologist Fedor Jagor
(1875: 269) described the almost submissive attitude of the natives:
The principal employment of our hosts appeared to be shing, which is so
productive that the roughest apparatus is sufcient. There was not a single boat,
but only loosely-bound rafts of bamboo, on which the shers, sinking, as we
ourselves did on our raft, half a foot deep, moved about amongst the crocodiles,
which I never beheld in such number and of so large a size as in this lake. Some
swam about on the surface with their backs projecting out of the water. It was
striking to see the complete indifference with which even two little girls waded
in the water in the face of these great monsters. Fortunately the latter appeared
to be satised with their ample rations of sh.
Here, the prejudice of the Europeans obstructed a comprehensive analysis. A
comparative South-east Asian perspective enables us to contextualise these
anecdotes and better understand the relationship between people and crocodiles
in pre-Hispanic Philippine cultures.38
In Malay cosmology crocodiles never arbitrarily attacked people. On the
contrary, crocodile attacks were seen as a selective punishment of the anitos
that followed socially unacceptable behaviour. Man-eating crocodiles were seen
as divine arbiters: ‘alguazil of the water’.39 Crocodiles guarded the social order
and avenged the transgression of taboos. Crocodile attacks were considered the
victims’ own mistake. In this perspective it was futile to be afraid of, or to take
precautions against, crocodiles.
It was believed that crocodiles personally knew and were closely related to
the local community.40 People constructed personal relationships with crocodiles
through reincarnation, descent, marriage, friendship or blood pacts. In the marshes
of Mindanao the datus traced their ancestral lineage to mythical crocodiles.41
In the Cordillera Mountain Range on Luzon the Kalinga called themselves
37. See Bowring 1859, pp. 130–131; Worcester 1898, p. 514.
38. It is tempting to provide an ecological explanation for the indifference of people towards
crocodiles. It seems plausible that in areas where the Indo-Pacic crocodile occurred,
people feared crocodiles and took precautions; whereas in the habitat of the much smaller
Philippine crocodile people would be indifferent to crocodiles. On closer inspection,
however, this lowland–upland dichotomy does not hold. In several areas in the Philippines,
for example on the Pacic coast of Sierra Madre, both crocodile species occur. In these
areas people differentiate between the species but do not take specic precautions against
Crocodylus porosus. Although there are no records of fatal attacks on humans, the
Philippine crocodile poses a risk to humans, particularly during breeding season.
39. Chirino 1604, p. 201; Kruyt 1935, p. 14; Adams 1979, p. 93; Bakels 2000, pp. 366–367;
Nocheseda 2002: 65. In the Spanish Empire an alguazil, a derivation from the Arabic visir,
was a municipal judge.
40. Hose and McDougall 1901, pp. 186; Boomgaard 2007: 17.
41. Polenda 1989.
A CULTURAL HISTORY OF CROCODILES
241
Environment and History 17.2
buwaya.42 And in the Visayan Islands it was believed that women could give
birth to crocodiles. In 1668 the Jesuit Francisco Alcina wrote:
One of [the] parishioners gave birth to a crocodile twin. She was the wife of
Pakotolini of Tubig, who had been raised in a Jesuit house as a church boy, and
the little creature was delivered together with a normal child. The parents moved
away to get rid of it, but it not only followed them but regularly brought them a
wild hog or deer, or large sh.43
These personal alliances have been extensively documented in the ethno-
graphic literature from insular South-east Asia. The Dutch ethnologist George
Wilken wrote that the Bugis believed that the deceased changed into crocodiles:
they placed offerings in the water for those who had become crocodiles.44 The
Kanyah, Kenyah and Iban in Sarawak believed that they were related to croco-
diles. 45 The Batak in Sumatra also thought they descended from crocodiles and
therefore could not eat crocodile meat.46 And in Nusa Tenggara people traced
their origins to a powerful crocodile that had married a girl from the village.47
Consequently there were strict taboos on killing crocodiles or eating their
meat. Doing so was also considered an unwise provocation: crocodiles were
known to take revenge.48 There was one clear exception: when a crocodile at-
tacked a human, that specic animal was killed, irrespective of the fact that it
might have acted as an instrument of the gods.49 Obviously the killing of the
man-eater had to be justied. People searched the stomach of the crocodile
for stones and pebbles, which proved its guilt. It was thought that each stone
represented the soul of a victim.50 When the man-eater was killed, offerings
were made to restore the peace between crocodiles and people.51 People and
crocodiles could again live together in peace.
These personal bonds in effect included crocodiles into the moral order.
The laws and logic that regulated social life also applied to the relationship
42. de Raedt 1993.
43. cited in Scott 1994, pp. 114–115.
44. Wilken 1885, p. 70.
45. Hose and McDougall 1901, pp. 190–99. In Borneo, people engraved crocodile images on
rocks, and constructed life-size outlines of crocodiles with clay, wood and stones. These
crocodile images were ritually killed during a ceremony (ulung buaya). After the ceremony,
the crocodile image continued to serve as a symbol of leadership, as platform for juridical
sessions, a ritual site for offerings, or as boundary marker between warring groups (Hose
and McDougall 1901; Harrison 1958; Datan 2006). In the Philippines, however, such large
megalithic relics were never recorded.
46. Wilken 1885, p. 69.
47. Schulte Nordholt 1971: 323; Middelkoop 1971: 436–440; Adams 1979, p. 92.
48. Boomgaard 2007: 19.
49. Hose and McDougall 1901, p. 186.
50. de la Gironière 1854, p. 221; Skeat 1900, pp. 292–293. Large crocodiles often have several
stones, gastroliths, in their stomach to aid digestion.
51. Kruyt 1935, p. 9; Nocheseda 2002: 93; Gavin 2003, p. 98.
JAN VAN DER PLOEG et al.
242
Environment and History 17.2
between people and crocodiles. To make sure that crocodiles and people could
peacefully co-exist, there were specic rules and obligations for both parties.52
The wellbeing of the community depended on its harmonious relations with
crocodiles. People’s attitudes towards crocodiles were respectful, tolerant and
non-aggressive. Violations on either side were punished. When a crocodile at-
tack took place, people sought a logical explanation and killed the man-eater
in retaliation. This ‘peace-pact’ gave meaning to a dangerous and unpredictable
world and enabled people to co-exist with crocodiles.53
THREE-HUNDRED YEARS IN THE CONVENT, ONE-HUNDRED
YEARS IN HOLLYWOOD
When the datu Soliman, Ache, and Lakandula surrendered to Miguel López de
Legazpi in 1571, crocodiles were still invoked:
The oaths of these nations were all execrations in the form of awful curses. Matay,
‘may I die!’ Cagtin nang buaya, ‘may I be eaten by the crocodile!’ … When
the chiefs of Manila and Tondo swore allegiance to our Catholic sovereigns …
they conrmed the peace agreements and the subjection with an oath, asking
the sun to pierce them through the middle, the crocodiles to eat them, and the
women not to show them any favor or wish them well, if they broke their word.54
Four hundred years later the bond between crocodiles and people has been broken.
Crocodiles are exterminated in most parts of the Philippines. Catholicism and
a surging global demand for crocodile leather transformed Filipino perceptions
of crocodiles and redened the moral order.55 Crocodiles are no longer seen
as guardians but as dangerous pests. But the fear of the beast paradoxically
increased as crocodiles disappeared from the landscape.
In the medieval perception of the Spanish friars crocodiles were the personi-
cation of the devil.56 They brought with them Biblical notions of the Leviathan,
52. Kruyt 1935, pp. 12–13; Bakels 2000.
53. Kruyt 1935, p. 10.
54. Colin 1663, pp. 78–79.
55. The pre-colonial Philippines were subject to Indian, Chinese and Islamic inuences, which
obviously left traces in material and oral culture. The naga and the dragon, for example, are
symbols that are closely associated with crocodiles and that have been adopted throughout
the archipelago (Maxwell 1990). The popular folktale about the crocodile and the monkey
probably originates from Indian literature (Francisco 1964). These inuences are, however,
now so thoroughly mixed up that it is almost impossible to disentangle them (Skeat 1900,
pp. xii–xiii). Nevertheless it is important to highlight one aspect: Muslims generally con-
sider crocodile meat haram and will thus not kill crocodiles for food. Persoon and de Iongh
(2004) have already pointed to the differences between Islamic and Christian communi-
ties in Southeast Asia and the implications for wildlife conservation, a point of particular
relevance for the conservation of crocodiles in Mindanao and Luzon.
56. Cohen 1994.
A CULTURAL HISTORY OF CROCODILES
243
Environment and History 17.2
an image that suited the Indo-Pacic crocodile well.57 In the eyes of the friars,
crocodiles not only posed a physical threat to communities but a challenge to
the faith itself. The adulation of crocodiles in the Philippines reinforced the
evangelical notion of an epic struggle against paganism. The slaying of the
dragon and the subsequent conversion of the indels are recurring themes in
medieval Christian mythology, for example in the legends of St. Martha, St.
George and the dragon and Philip the Evangelist.58 These tropes perfectly tted
the Philippine context, where people made offerings to statues of crocodiles.
The religious orders actively tried to destroy these pagan idols and liberate the
indios from the evil crocodiles.59 Conversion could save people from the danger
posed by crocodiles:
In this same year occurred a miraculous conversion of an indel. This latter
was crossing the river of Manila in one of those small boats so numerous in the
islands, which do not extend more than two dedos out of the water. As there are
many caimans in this river (which in that respect is another Nile), one of them
happened to cross his course, and, seizing him, dragged him to the bottom with
a rapidity which is their mode, by a natural instinct of killing and securing their
prey. The indel, like another Jonas, beneath the water called with all his heart
upon the God of the Christians; and instantly beheld two persons clad in white,
who snatched him from the claws of the caiman; and drew him to the bank safe
and sound; and as a result of this miracle he was baptized, with his two sons,
and became a Christian. The very opposite befell another Christian, who forgot
of God, passed every night to the other side of the river to commit evil deeds.
God, wearied of waiting for him, sent his ‘alguazil of the water’ – which is the
name of the cayman – who, seizing him executed upon his person the divine
chastisement for his wickedness.60
During the Spanish occupation crocodiles became symbols of evil and danger.
The dragon captured at the feet of a Saint became an icon in art and literature.61
Figure 3, a painting from the parish church of San Mariano, is exemplary: a
Saint saves his congregation by trampling a crocodile.
The novels of Jose P. Rizal, the Filipino novelist and nationalist whose
execution set off the Philippine revolution, provide another illustration of the
changes that occurred in peoples’ perceptions of crocodiles. Rizal used the
57. Kiessling 1970
58. Hédard and Fréchet 2005, p. 96.
59. Bankoff 1999: 40.
60. Chirino 1604, p. 201.
61. Nevertheless some remarkable transformations took place in this image: St. Martha the
Patron Saint of housewives in Europe, became in the Philippines the Patron Saint of the
duck egg (balut) industry after driving crocodiles out of Pasig River (Nocheseda 2002).
Her victory over the crocodiles is still celebrated every year in the municipality of Pateros.
A similar esta is held in the municipality of Gattaran to celebrate the disappearance of
crocodiles from Cagayan River.
JAN VAN DER PLOEG et al.
244
Environment and History 17.2
FIGURE 3. Painting in the parish church in San Mariano by C. Domelod (1999)
A CULTURAL HISTORY OF CROCODILES
245
Environment and History 17.2
Spanish chronicles as a source of inspiration to ‘awaken [the] consciousness
of our past … and to rectify what has been falsied and slandered’.62 There are
numerous references to ‘caymans’ in the works of Rizal, who apparently did not
know that there were two species of crocodiles in the Philippines. One of the
most famous is a passage in Noli Me Tangere when a crocodile is encountered,
and killed, during a shing trip on Laguna de Bay:
‘All because we didn’t hear mass’, sighed one. ‘But what accident has befallen
us, ladies?’ asked Ibarra. ‘The cayman seems to have been the only unlucky one.’
‘All of which proves’, concluded the ex-student of theology, ‘that in all its sinful
life this unfortunate reptile has never attended mass – at least I’ve never seen
him among the many other caymans that frequent the church. … The body of
the cayman writhed about, sometimes showing its torn white belly and again its
speckled greenish back, while man, Nature’s favourite, went on his way undisturbed
by what the Brahmin and vegetarians would call so many cases of fratricide.63
Clearly, the association of crocodiles with greed and egoism was already
commonly accepted in the nineteenth century Philippines. In his book El
Filibusterismo, Rizal took things a step further: crocodiles became symbols of
nepotism and colonial suppression:
But when they began to harvest their rst crop a religious corporation, which
owned land in the neighboring town laid claim to the elds … The administrator
of the religious order left to them, for humanity’s sake, the usufruct of the land
on condition that they pay a small sum annually – a mere bagatelle, twenty or
thirty pesos … Tandang Selo said to him, ‘Patience! You would spend more in
one year of litigation than in ten years of paying what the white padres demand.
And perhaps they’ll pay you back in masses. Pretend that those thirty pesos had
been lost in gambling or had fallen into the water and been swallowed by a cay-
man.’ … Another year passed, bringing another good crop, and for this reason
the friars raised the rent to fty pesos, which Tales paid in order not to quarrel
and because he expected to sell his sugar at a good price. ‘Patience! Pretend that
the cayman has grown some.’64
Rizal portrayed the Spanish friars as crocodiles, and paid with his life.65
The conversion of marshes and the clearance of riparian forests fuelled by a
growing human population must have had an impact on crocodile populations
during the Spanish occupation, particularly in Luzon and the Visayas.66 But it
62. Rizal 1889, cited in Hall 1999.
63. Rizal 1886, pp. 156–160
64. Rizal 1891, pp. 34–43.
65. A bronze sculpture made by Rizal of a dog attacking a crocodile to save her pup represents
the Filipino people and the Spanish rulers, respectively. The association between crocodiles
and landlords is still a popular theme in Filipino literature (see for example: Hernandez
1983).
66. Bankoff 2007.
JAN VAN DER PLOEG et al.
246
Environment and History 17.2
was the frontier mentality of the American imperialists that fundamentally al-
tered the relationship between crocodiles and people in the Philippines: for the
Americans crocodiles were not only dangerous pests but also valuable resourc-
es.67 After the Philippine Revolution and the treaty of Paris of 1898 that ended
the Spanish–American War, the United States started to explore and exploit its
newly acquired colony. The Taft Commission, tasked to investigate the condi-
tions in the Philippine Islands, stereotyped crocodiles as dangerous man-eaters:
Crocodiles are extremely abundant in many of the streams and freshwater lakes,
and are sometimes met with in the sea along the coast. They frequently attain a
very large size … In certain parts of the archipelago they occasion no little loss
of life, while in other regions the natives may be seen bathing with apparent
impunity in streams where they are known to abound. The natives explain this
by saying that the taste for human esh is acquired, and that having once tasted
it by accident a crocodile is content with nothing else and becomes a man-eater.68
The early explorers and naturalists often exaggerated the dangers of the
Orient for their overseas readers (Figure 4). Even the zoologist Joseph Steere,
who collected the paratype specimen of the Philippine crocodile in Mindoro in
1888, coloured his story with ‘a violent bite from the captive crocodile’.69 More
empirically-oriented observers however, such as W. Cameron Forbes, the US
Governor-General of the Philippines from 1908 to 1913, wrote that crocodile
attacks on humans were in fact ‘comparatively rare’.70
Commercial crocodile hunting in the Philippines started in the 1920s and
intensied after World War Two.71 Crocodile hunters were widely admired and
rewarded for their ‘exemplary service to the community’.72 No reliable quanti-
tative records exist of the trade in crocodile leather. But a gure published by
the American geographer Frederick Wernstedt gives an indication of the scale
of the slaughter: in 1953 ve tons of crocodile skins were exported from the
port of Cebu.73 By the end of the 1960s, crocodile populations were depleted to
the point where commercial hunting was no longer considered a ‘remunerative
occupation’.74 In the 1970s and 1980s, skins, specimens, teeth and organs were
sold on markets in Manila as tourist curios.75 The reclamation of ‘crocodile
67. See Bankoff 2009 on the origin of the utilitarian conservation ethic in the Philippines.
68. Philippine Commission 1901, pp. 318–19.
69. Schmidt 1938: 89.
70. Forbes 1945, p. 17. In the Dutch Indies, the colonial government created a premium system
to eradicate crocodiles. The system ofcially started in 1935 but was terminated because
most people refused to kill crocodiles! (Knapen 2001) To our knowledge no systematic pest
eradication system was set up in the Philippines.
71. Jenkins and Broad 1994; Thorbjarnarson 1999.
72. Ortega 1998, p. 102.
73. Wernstedt 1956: 346.
74. Wernstedt and Spencer 1967, p. 108.
75. Ross 1982.
A CULTURAL HISTORY OF CROCODILES
247
Environment and History 17.2
infested swampland’ 76 further contributed to the disappearance of crocodiles in
most parts of the archipelago.
As early as 1977, the Philippine Government played with the idea of estab-
lishing crocodile farms ‘to minimise the dangers being posed by these dangerous
reptiles to men as well as to animals and to turn to a more productive purpose
instead’.77 It took another ten years and Japanese funding before these ideas were
put in practice. Responding to the decline of crocodiles in the Philippines, a
captive breeding programme for the species was established in 1987 in Palawan:
the Crocodile Farming Institute (CFI). The underlying idea was to develop a
crocodile leather industry to ‘instil in trappers/catchers the relative economic
importance of a ferocious, living crocodile relative to a harmless dead one’.78
CFI succeeded in breeding both crocodile species in captivity. But captive-bred
crocodiles were never reintroduced to the wild as policy makers assumed that
rural communities would resist such an intervention:
76. DBP 1979: 2.
77. PCARR 1977: 1130.
78. Ortega et al. 1993: 126.
FIGURE 4. Cover illustration of the book Twenty years in the Philippines (1819
1839) by H. Valentin (de la Gironière 1854).
JAN VAN DER PLOEG et al.
248
Environment and History 17.2
People’s attitudes would have to be changed by challenging old and accepted,
even if unscientic, notions about the crocodile ... so that people in the rural
areas would come to appreciate the crocodile as a viable wildlife species in our
environment that needs to be appreciated and conserved.79
However, no efforts were made to mobilise support and engage rural communi-
ties in in situ crocodile conservation.80
A remarkable transformation has taken place in the way people regard
crocodiles in the Philippines: from divine guardian to devil, from symbol of
social injustice to commodity and from obstacle to economic development to
‘endangered pest’.81 Nowadays crocodiles are the ‘most maligned, unfairly-
treated and misunderstood species in the country’.82 Mainstream Filipino society
has become increasingly alienated from crocodiles. Most people now only see
crocodiles on TV or in commercial advertisements. Hollywood horror movies
such as Lake Placid and Discovery Channel documentaries such as Crocodile
Hunter have entrenched an image of the crocodile as dangerous monster in
contemporary mainstream Philippine culture.83 But in the remote rural areas
people often have very different perceptions of crocodiles.
CROCODILES IN THE NORTHERN SIERRA MADRE
We interviewed Marcella Impiel in April 2003 in Cadsalan, a village in the mu-
nicipality of San Mariano in the uplands of the northern Sierra Madre (Figure
5).84 Her words are illustrative of indigenous people’s attitudes towards crocodiles
in the remote rural areas of the Philippines:
We’re afraid of the crocodile. I do not allow my children to swim alone in the
river. If a crocodile faces you it will blow at you and you will get beriberi. Croco-
diles are very powerful. They have a fth sense. Therefore you should not say
bad things about the crocodile. My grandmother said: if you kill a crocodile you
will get sick. The crocodile always takes revenge. Even if you cut your hair the
79. Palawan State College 1991: 11.
80. Since 1992 there has been growing awareness of the plight of the country’s endemic wild-
life. Since 2004 crocodiles have been protected by law. However, most people are simply
not aware of environmental legislation.
81. The term endangered pest was coined by John Knight (2000, p. 13).
82. Malayang 2007: 1.
83. Vivanco 2004.
84. This paragraph is based on around 150 unstructured interviews with Agta, Kalinga and im-
migrant farmers (mainly Ilocano, Ibanag and Ifugao) in the northern Sierra Madre between
2002 and 2008. Most interviews were conducted in Ilocano, the lingua franca in north
Luzon, with the help of an interpreter. Specic quotes were selected if they were consid-
ered representative for a general theme. The name of the respondent and the year when the
interview was conducted are provided for each quote.
A CULTURAL HISTORY OF CROCODILES
249
Environment and History 17.2
crocodile will recognise you. Even on land it will strike you. But the crocodile
will not bite innocent people. If you do not harm the crocodile, the crocodile
will not harm you. 85
In the northern Sierra Madre crocodiles have survived in the ancestral lands
of the Agta and the Kalinga. Here, a delicate mix of respect, fear and indifference
characterises the relationship between people and crocodiles.
The Agta
The Agta are a Negrito forest-dwelling people inhabiting the Sierra Madre
mountain range on Luzon.86 Fishing, hunting and gathering are important live-
lihood strategies. Settlements are located along forest streams or in the coastal
area near river estuaries: the habitat of Philippine crocodiles and Indo-Pacic
crocodiles respectively. The Agta differentiate between bukarot and buwaya and
85. Beriberi is a nervous system ailment caused by vitamin B1 deciency. Symptoms include
weakness, pain, weight loss, emotional disturbances and swelling of limbs.
86. There are approximately 10,000 Agta in the Sierra Madre on Luzon (Early and Headland
1998). The Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park in the province of Isabela, where we
conducted most of our eldwork, is home to 1,700 Agta, distributed over more than 80 set-
tlements (Minter 2009).
FIGURE 5. Map of the northern Sierra Madre showing remaining crocodile
populations
JAN VAN DER PLOEG et al.
250
Environment and History 17.2
often have detailed knowledge of the occurrence and behaviour of crocodiles
in their ancestral domains. They respectfully call large crocodiles Apo (Sir) or
Lakay (old man). The Agta sometimes nd half-eaten sea-turtles on the beach:
‘a gift from the old crocodile’.87 If people see an Indo-Pacic crocodile taking
shelter in a cove, it is interpreted as a sign of an approaching typhoon.
Both crocodile species are feared but the Agta do not take specic precautions,
even in areas where Indo-Pacic crocodiles occur. Agta shermen occasionally
encounter crocodiles underwater but are unconcerned about the risks. In the
past, shermen requested permission of the crocodiles to catch sh and asked
to be left alone in the water, but this practice has largely disappeared. Fishermen
claim that crocodiles will not attack them:
My father knew an underwater cave in Dipagsangan. There was always a large
crocodile in the cave. The crocodile allowed my father to enter the cave and spear
sh. They were friends and blood brothers. My father asked the crocodile not to
harm his family. When my father died, the crocodile was also gone.88
These personal bonds are common throughout the northern Sierra Madre.
Fishermen know individual crocodiles and say that these animals do not pose
a threat to them.
Crocodile attacks on humans are rare in the northern Sierra Madre. In 1996
a boy, Arnel de la Peña, was bitten in the leg by an Indo-Pacic crocodile in
Dibulos Creek in Divilacan; he luckily survived the attack. Several respondents
said it was his mistake:
Crocodiles never forget and always take revenge. Arnel cut the tail of a small
crocodile and threw stones at it. After a few years he was bitten in his legs by
the same crocodile. A crocodile will always remember you.89
The moral of stories like this is that people should respect crocodiles: ‘if you
harm a crocodile, the crocodile will harm you’.90 Killing a crocodile is consid-
ered an unwise provocation. Not so much because of the physical danger posed
by crocodiles, but because of the risk that ‘an evil spirit will bite your soul’.91
The Agta think that some crocodiles are guarded by spirits; these enkantado
crocodiles are considered dangerous. Some respondents say that these enchanted
crocodiles are very large, wear a necklace, have two tails or are completely black.
The hunter-gatherer lifestyle of the Agta has relatively little impact on
crocodiles and wetlands. People do not eat crocodile meat but when a nest is
found the eggs are collected and eaten. In general the Agta are indifferent to-
wards the crocodiles that inhabit their ancestral domain. When we observed an
87. Pers. comm. D. Gonzales 2004.
88. Pers. comm. E. Prado 2006.
89. Pers. comm. R. Gonzalez 2005.
90. Pers. comm. W. Cabaldo 2004.
91. Pers. comm. M. Molina 2005.
A CULTURAL HISTORY OF CROCODILES
251
Environment and History 17.2
adult estuarine crocodile in Palanan in 2004 our Agta guide reassured us that he
knew the animal and that it did not pose a risk: ‘never mind the crocodile…’92
The Kalinga
The Kalinga are shifting cultivators in the forest frontier of the northern Sierra
Madre. They inhabit two remote watersheds in San Mariano: Catalangan and
Ilaguen.93 A remnant Philippine crocodile population survives in these river sys-
tems. It is said that in the past the Kalinga and crocodiles peacefully coexisted:
‘people used to cross the river on the back of crocodiles’.94 The Kalinga say that
crocodiles are dangerous animals but claim that those that live in their ancestral
domains are an exception: they are ‘friendly’.95 Killing crocodiles is a taboo
and can cause sickness: ‘you cannot kill something that is stronger than you’.96
If people become sick because of a crocodile, they can be cured by placing a
cross with chalk on their forehead and performing a ritual.
Crocodiles play an important role in Kalinga culture. During festivities
and healing rituals (patunnuk) the Kalinga make rice cakes in the form of a
crocodile: offerings to the ancestors. Transmogrication and metempsychosis
are recurrent themes in Kalinga society. The Kalinga believe that crocodiles are
the embodiment of the ancestors, and sometimes make a small food offering to
the ancestor crocodiles when crossing a river.97 People tell that their chiefs can
change at will into erce crocodiles; and they joke that today’s punong barangay
(the elected village leader) has luckily lost that ability. The Kalinga believe that
the bugeyan, the traditional healer, still has the ability to change into a crocodile.
In a trance she risks becoming a crocodile.98 Faith healers can also command
crocodiles to attack people as a punishment for anti-social behaviour. People
tell stories of other remarkable transformations:
92. Pers. comm. B. Mijares 2004.
93. It is important to differentiate the Kalinga of the Sierra Madre from the Kalinga of the
Central Cordillera: these are two different ethno-linguistic groups. In Ibanag the word
‘kalinga’ means enemy. The Christian communities in the Cagayan Valley called all indel
mountaineers Kalinga which might explain why these separate groups are both called
Kalinga. The Kalinga of the Sierra Madre, also known as Irraya, Kalibugan or Catalangan,
were rst described by a German explorer, Carl Semper, in 1861 (Scott 1979). Felix
Keesing (1962) postulated that the Sierra Madre Kalinga are Ibanag and Gaddang who
rebelled against Spanish rule and retreated to the foothills of the Sierra Madre. The local
government of San Mariano estimates that there are approximately 2,500 Kalinga living
in the municipality. This is most likely an underestimate: many Kalinga nowadays identify
themselves as Ilocano. At present there are also several Cordillera Kalinga migrant com-
munities in the northern Sierra Madre, particularly in the municipality of Divilacan.
94. Pers. comm. A. Fransisco 2004.
95. Pers. comm. W. Languido 2003.
96. Pers. comm. Baliwag 2004.
97. Knibbe and Angnged 2005, p. 71.
98. Pers. comm. M. Espiritu 2005.
JAN VAN DER PLOEG et al.
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Environment and History 17.2
A girl never wanted to share her betel nut with her family. She was possessed by
a spirit and became sick. Her parents cooked nice food, but she did not want to
eat. Every night she went to the river to swim. One night she said to her parents:
‘you can eat my betel nut, I am a crocodile now’. She cried and said goodbye.
Then she went to the river and became a crocodile.99
In another popular Kalinga folktale, a woman hit her children too hard and
subsequently turned into a crocodile. As it is widely thought that crocodiles eat
their own offspring, people consider this a logical punishment.100
Traditional beliefs and practices prove to be surprisingly resilient. Three
hundred and fty years after Father Alcina wrote about women giving birth to
crocodiles in the Visayas, the Kalinga in the northern Sierra Madre think that
some people are born with a spiritual crocodile-twin:
The girl and the crocodile grew up together. But one day the father got angry with
the crocodile and tried to kill it. The crocodile escaped but his tail was chopped
off. You can still see this twin crocodile without tail in the river. We call him
putol. The crocodile regularly visits and protects his sister.101
Different versions of this story are told throughout the Sierra Madre. Some nar-
rators claim the enchanted crocodile was released by its human parents with a
necklace. Others say it killed its human brother. Poldo Velasco recited another
version of the crocodile-twin story:
A woman gave birth to twins: one was a girl and the other a crocodile. They grew
up together, although the crocodile was mostly in the water. His sister talked to
him and said: ‘please do not eat dogs or humans. Otherwise I will kill you.’ But
one day a dog went missing, and she suspected it was her sibling who did this.
She went to the river and called: ‘all of you crocodiles, related to my sibling,
come to me!’ Many crocodiles came, really a lot. The river was full of them.
Then she said: ‘there is still one missing!’ So she asked them to look for her sister
crocodile. A few moments later her sister crocodile came. ‘So you were the one
who ate the dog’ she said. And she killed her sister crocodile.102
The Kalinga try to nd a logical explanation for crocodile behaviour. In
Cadsalan crocodiles are often observed in the creek near the traditional cem-
etery. People concluded that these crocodiles were the personication of the
ancestors and therefore would not disturb these animals. Aggressive behaviour
99. Pers. comm. T. Catalunia 2003.
100. This myth is widely known throughout the Philippines and insular Southeast Asia. It prob-
ably nds its origin in the maternal care of crocodilians: several crocodile species crack the
eggs to assist the young in hatching and carry the hatchlings to the water in their jaws. See:
Navarette 1676, p. 305; Skeat 1900, p. 286; Alvina 2007.
101. Pers. comm. B. Robles 2003.
102. Cited in Knibbe and Angnged 2005, p. 72.
A CULTURAL HISTORY OF CROCODILES
253
Environment and History 17.2
of individual crocodiles is justied: ‘even a chicken protects its chicks’.103 In
2003 a boy, Marlon Robles, was attacked by an adult Philippine crocodile in
Dinang Creek in San Mariano; luckily he escaped unharmed. People explained
that the father of the boy had tried to kill a crocodile and that the crocodile at-
tacked in retaliation:
There is a spell on the crocodiles. Nobody can kill them. Boy Robles has tried to
kill the crocodiles but he did not succeed. Now the crocodiles are taking revenge
and are attacking his family.104
But the Kalinga don’t see a fundamental problem in living in close proximity
to crocodiles: the peace pact is still honoured.
Social change
The historical continuity of people’s attitudes towards crocodiles in the northern
Sierra Madre is remarkable (Figure 6). But it also masks fundamental changes. In
the 1960s commercial logging companies started operating in the forests of the
Sierra Madre. Commercial crocodile hunters systematically killed crocodiles for
the leather trade. Some older respondents remember how ‘Moro hunters’ killed
crocodiles by luring the animals with a prayer and stabbing them underwater:
‘their magic made them invulnerable to the wrath of the spirits’.105 In several
areas, the army shot crocodiles to ‘protect the local populace’.106 Immigrant
farmers settled in the forest frontier and organised hunting parties to ‘clean the
river from crocodiles because they posed a threat to our children and pigs’.107
These Ilocano and Ibanag immigrants generally see crocodiles as vermin.
They believe that crocodile meat is an excellent medicine against asthma, that
crocodile scales have magical power during cockghting and that a crocodile
penis is an aphrodisiac.
Nowadays, the Agta and Kalinga form minorities in the northern Sierra
Madre. Immigrants have dispossessed the indigenous people of most of their
ancestral lands. The Agta have maintained their cultural distinctiveness to a
large degree, but are generally excluded from social and economic life. The
103. Pers. comm. Robles 2006.
104. Pers. comm. F. Languido 2003.
105. Pers. comm. T. Francisco. Throughout northern Luzon people narrate how in the 1960s and
1970s professional hunters searched the rivers and creeks at night, killed crocodiles, dried
the skin and distributed the meat to local people. It is generally assumed that these hunters
were from Mindanao: hence people refer to them as ‘Moro.’ In fact it is probable that these
professional crocodile hunters were Orang Bugis from Sulawesi, who controlled the croco-
dile leather networks in insular Southeast Asia. Most crocodile skins from the Philippines
were exported to tanneries in Singapore (Hemley and Caldwell 1986).
106. Pers. comm. J. Arburo 2004
107. Pers. comm. R. Corpus 2004.
JAN VAN DER PLOEG et al.
254
Environment and History 17.2
Kalinga, in contrast, have undergone a rapid process of ‘Ilocanization’.108 Most
Kalinga have been converted to Christianity and have adopted the production
and consumption patterns of their Ilocano and Ibanag neighbours. The Agta and
the Kalinga are marginalised groups, often stigmatised by lowland communities.
As a result people are reluctant to talk about their traditions and beliefs, afraid of
being labelled as ‘stupid, ‘backward’ or ‘superstitious’. During interviews people
explain that only enchanted crocodiles attack people but add that they person-
ally ‘no longer believe in these stories’.109 Traditional values and practices are
changing as markets, schools, chainsaws and televisions become more accessible.
In the remote villages one nds a mix of often contradictory stories and
anecdotes. Some people claim that enchanted crocodiles attack people whereas
normal crocodiles are harmless, others say that normal crocodiles attack people
and that enchanted crocodiles are ‘friendly’ and carry people across rivers.
Indigenous people and immigrant farmers in the northern Sierra Madre cre-
108. Keesing 1962, p. 326.
109. Pers. comm. P. Maneia 2003. Interestingly, this ambivalence has been a recurrent element
in the anthropological literature on human–wildlife relations for more than 100 years. See:
Hose and McDougall 1901, p. 190; Martin 1978, pp. 155–156.
FIGURE 6. Historical continuity and change: a compilation of photos from the northern
Sierra Madre. From left: Kalinga traditional healer; Ilocano boys on a carabao; juvenile
Philippine crocodile; Agta girl pounding rice; Ibanag boy with plough; Kalinga house.
A CULTURAL HISTORY OF CROCODILES
255
Environment and History 17.2
atively fuse Malay beliefs, European fairytales and Hollywood movies into one
contemporary reality. In June 2001, for example, a Philippine crocodile was
killed in the municipality of Divilacan. The animal was buried. When it started
raining intermittently for several days, people made a link between the rains and
the dead crocodile: the crocodile needed water. As a result the crocodile was
exhumed and thrown into the sea to appease the crocodile-spirit and prevent a
ood. Another example comes from the municipality of Palanan where treasure-
hunters were draining an underwater cave in 2004. They were convinced that
a Japanese plane loaded with gold had crashed in the cave during World War
Two. The fact that crocodiles were observed in the area strengthened this idea:
‘everybody knows that crocodiles protect treasures’.110 This chaotic and often
inconsistent mix is in our view not a sign of deculturation but a characteristic
element of oral history. Folktales, myths and movies form the logical framework
wherein new experiences and observations are exibly incorporated. People in
Divilacan for example say that there used to be an Indo-Pacic crocodile that
was so large that bamboo grew on its back. Seeing this animal was an omen
for a good harvest. But this is no longer the case: ‘the bamboo died because of
the use of pesticides’.111
The argument that crocodiles survived in the ancestral domains of the Agta
and the Kalinga because of low population densities, rudimentary technology and
the absence of markets can easily be refuted. Indigenous people in the northern
Sierra Madre tolerated crocodiles; they could have exterminated the crocodiles
had they wished to. Indifference, respect and fear of the spirits assured that
crocodiles were not purposely killed. Conversely the Kalinga and Agta have not
actively protected crocodiles or critical wetland habitat in their ancestral lands.
There is, in essence, no need to protect ancestors, spirits or witches. Obviously
immigration and acculturation have had profound impacts on the traditional
belief and knowledge systems that structured people’s relations with crocodiles.
But that does not make these indigenous experiences less relevant. Agta and
Kalinga culture provide a valuable counterweight to the commonly held view
that negative attitudes of rural communities form a major obstruction for in situ
crocodile conservation in the Philippines. As such the perceptions of the Agta
and the Kalinga are more than relics from a distant past: they are proof that
people and crocodiles can coexist in intensively-used landscapes in the Philip-
pines of the twenty rst century. The experiences of the Kalinga and the Agta
provide very practical solutions for specic problems: when a crocodile attacked
Marcella Impiel’s livestock in Cadsalan in 2001 she did not kill the crocodile
but decided to relocate her house a little further from the creek and to prevent
her pigs from roaming freely at night. It solved the problem.
110. Pers. comm. L. Salazar 2004.
111. Pers. comm. J. Centeno 2004.
JAN VAN DER PLOEG et al.
256
Environment and History 17.2
DISCUSSION
In a speech in January 2007 the undersecretary of the Department of Environ-
ment and Natural Resource Management, Jose Ferrer, laid out the rationale for
crocodile conservation in the Philippines:
If there are any creatures that are capable of provoking a range of emotions
from us, they are crocodiles … When we see crooks in government, we call
them crocodiles, when we see fat-bellied policemen on the streets, we call them
crocodiles Hunters were all too happy to relieve the reviled Indo-Pacic croco-
dile of its protable skin and uncontrolled harvests reduced the wild population
dramatically. Not that many people cared. To most, the only good crocodile was
a dead one … Several years after we rst implemented the Philippines’ crocodile
recovery program, Indo-Pacic crocodile numbers (although in captivity) are now
approaching densities not seen before. Tourism has become a major force with
crocodiles as a star attraction. Even those who still dislike crocodiles acknowledge
their economic importance and would never want to see them vanish. Such is the
importance of linking conservation with people … Local people must see that
their crocodiles are important, not only to the environment, but to themselves
… Those of us who admire crocodiles need only to know that they exist, but
this opinion is very much the exception for the people who have to share their
habitat with crocodiles. When animals threaten your livelihood, or even your
life, it inuences your opinion about those animals.112
Ferrer’s speech is exemplary of how policymakers and conservationists in the
Philippines think about crocodiles and ‘the opinion of local people’. It is argued
that negative attitudes of rural communities form a major obstruction for in situ
crocodile conservation. In this view removing crocodiles from the wild and
breeding them in captivity is considered the only solution to safeguard crocodile
populations in the Philippines.113
There are several awed assumptions in this reasoning. As this paper has
shown, people who live in close proximity to crocodiles do not necessarily con-
sider crocodiles a pest. In fact, indigenous peoples in the northern Sierra Madre
tolerate crocodiles. Here, as well as in the mangrove forests of Palawan and the
marshes of Mindanao, rural communities have a tradition of co-existence with
crocodiles that goes back more than four hundred years. As a result crocodiles
have survived in the ancestral domains of these peoples. Ignoring this fact not
only inhibits the design of effective conservation interventions but also adds to
the marginalisation and disenfranchisement of indigenous peoples. Paradoxi-
cally, people who have no actual experiences of crocodiles are more afraid of
112. Ferrer 2008: 7–9.
113. Ross 1982, p. 27; WCSP 1999, pp. 76–9.
A CULTURAL HISTORY OF CROCODILES
257
Environment and History 17.2
and hostile towards crocodiles. When people are ‘disengaged’, incoherent
representations and irrational fears of crocodiles prevail.114
A narrow focus on the utilitarian value of crocodiles does not seem to be
a practical conservation strategy in the Philippines. There are no undisturbed
wetlands and too few crocodiles left in the wild for a community-based sustain-
able harvesting and ranching programme in the Philippines. Crocodile farming
certainly has economic potential but requires large capital investment. At present,
the crocodile leather industry in the Philippines is dominated by six wealthy
hog and poultry farmers, who operate closed-cycle crocodile farms.115 Crocodile
farming has not so far generated economic benets for rural communities living
in crocodile habitat and it is highly unlikely it will do so in the near future. In
most areas where crocodiles occur, tourism is not a viable option: civil insurgency
and the lack of infrastructure make travelling to the northern Sierra Madre, the
Balabac Islands in Palawan and the Ligauasan and Agusan marshes in Mindanao
difcult. The exclusive focus on sustainable use and captive breeding diverts
scarce resources from in situ conservation efforts. Removing crocodiles from
the wild contributes to local extinctions and reinforces the idea among policy-
makers and the public that cohabitation is impossible. Moreover it ignores the
fact that people have found ways to co-exist with crocodiles in human-dominated
landscapes. But the sustainable use model has, despite Ferrer’s optimism, failed
to conserve crocodiles and improve the wellbeing of people in the Philippines.
The pre-colonial heritage and the practical knowledge and experiences
of indigenous people offer an alternative perspective for the modernist and
utilitarian views of policy makers and conservationists.116 Philippine history
and culture provide a conservation ethic entrenched in society and history and
adaptive to local circumstances. In areas where crocodiles survive in the wild,
indigenous beliefs and practices towards the species often prevail. Here people
know crocodiles from their own experience and treat them with respect. These
are not archaic remnants of a forgotten past, irrelevant to modern life. On the
contrary, the worldviews and ecological knowledge of the Kalinga and Agta offer
pragmatic solutions for living with crocodiles. With common-sense precautionary
measures, such as tying livestock at night and avoiding areas where crocodiles
are known to occur, human–crocodile conicts are minimised. These experiences
provide a different narrative: one that stresses cohabitation and wellbeing instead
of ‘threats to livelihood’ and ‘economic importance’. It enables the design of a
conservation strategy that positively enhances the capacity and knowledge of
rural communities to conserve the resources they value.
Our experiences in the northern Sierra Madre suggest that crocodiles can ef-
fectively be conserved in human-dominated landscapes.117 Setting aside cultural
114. Ingold 1994, p. 19.
115. Mercado 2008: 29.
116. Schama 1995; Scott 1998; Maf and Woodley 2010.
117. van der Ploeg and van Weerd 2004a; van der Ploeg et al. 2008b.
JAN VAN DER PLOEG et al.
258
Environment and History 17.2
prejudice, the municipal government of San Mariano proclaimed the Philippine
crocodile as the agship species of the municipality. Village councils prohibited
the use of destructive shing methods, established crocodile sanctuaries and
maintain riparian buffer zones. A public awareness campaign engages people
in crocodile conservation: posters are distributed, community dialogues are
organised to address peoples’ questions and concerns, and schoolchildren are
brought into the eld to see the Philippine crocodile in the wild.118 Farmers and
shermen now know that the Philippine crocodile is protected by law.119 More
important perhaps is that people take pride in the occurrence of a rare and iconic
species in their village; that shermen enjoy talking about crocodile ecology
and behaviour; and that children become excited about seeing a crocodile in the
wild. For many people in San Mariano these immaterial values seem to be an
important motivational factor to tolerate the species in their midst.
There is broad support for these conservation interventions at the grassroots
level. Confronted with declining sh stocks and the effects of ooding, people
want authorities to ban shing with dynamite and to act against destructive land
use practices such as the conversion of creeks and ponds and logging along river
banks. In this view the wellbeing of the community depends on the conserva-
tion of watersheds, wetlands and crocodiles. For rural communities who ‘share
their habitat with crocodiles’ the conservation of crocodiles in the wild is not
an externally imposed alien concept, but builds on existing cultural values.
In 1890 Jose P. Rizal published an annotated version of Antonio de Morga’s
Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas (1609):
[O]ther nations have great esteem for the lion or the bear, putting them on the
shields and giving them honourable epithets. The mysterious life of the crocodile,
the enormous size that it sometimes reaches, its fatidic aspect, without counting
anymore its voraciousness, must have inuenced greatly the imagination of the
Malayan Filipinos.120
Crocodiles still capture the imagination of many Filipinos. This forms a strong
foundation to conserve the species in the wild, for poor rural communities in
remote areas too.
118. van der Ploeg et al. 2008a; van der Ploeg et al. 2009.
119. As a result the Philippine crocodile population in San Mariano is slowly recovering from 12
individuals in the wild in 2000 to 64 in 2009.
120. Rizal cited in Nocheseda 2002: 75.
A CULTURAL HISTORY OF CROCODILES
259
Environment and History 17.2
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... For instance, Van der Ploeg et al. (2011c) described how the Maguindanao ("the people of the flood plain") in the Philippines believed their people descended from buayas or crocodiles. Their worldview promotes tolerance and acceptance of crocodilians through a delicate balance of fear and respect (Apostol, 2012;Van der Ploeg et al., 2011c). Van der Ploeg (2012) also chronicled how efforts to conserve the critically endangered Philippine crocodile (C. ...
... Van der Ploeg et al. (2011b) also demonstrated that institutions (formal and informal rules governing collective behavior [Ostrom, 1990]) can work synergistically with national legal protection efforts to influence population growth among crocodilians. Some African communities (e.g., Batoka villagers [Zambia], Malagasy people [Madagascar]) employed a shared ethical community paradigm in which Nile crocodiles and humans have the legal and ethical ability to carry out punishment, meaning an attack on a human by a crocodile can be justified and retaliatory killings by humans can be treated as a criminal act (Pooley, 2016a;Van der Ploeg et al., 2011c). Historically, space-sharing communities believed various strategies would help them avoid interactions with crocodilians. ...
... Cohen (2019) studied how wildlife tourism in Thailand, the United States, and Australia moderated the change in human perceptions about crocodilians where perceptions were transformed from a dangerous, ferocious carnivore to pet-like personification. Similarly, Van der Ploeg et al. (2011c) chronicled that the Philippine crocodile had undergone three stages of symbolic transformation in society: (a) "divine guardian to devil," (b) "symbol of social injustice to commodity," and (c) "obstacle to economic development to 'endangered pest'" (p. 248). ...
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Crocodilians are socially and ecological important apex predators. Yet, many societies struggle to share space with crocodilians, especially in urban and coastal regions. The literature provides fragmented insights into human-crocodilian coexistence and conflict across the urban-rural gradient. We conducted an exploratory review of the literature to identify trends in research and opportunities for researchers to unearth potential principles of human coexistence with crocodilian species within cognitive, spatial, and governance domains. Our results follow two lines of inquiry: (a) interactions in increasingly urbanizing areas, and (b) interactions in natural resource dependent rural communities. In both instances, our review revealed the influential role of cognitions in human defense of symbolic and material livelihoods and negotiating human-crocodilian interactions. Our findings also demonstrated that studies insufficiently attend to larger forces (e.g., rural-urban drift, land use change, societal adaptive capacity) influencing interactions. Understanding social-ecological connections between humans and apex predators are necessary to rethink coexistence.
... In Australia, wild crocodiles thrill thousands of tourists every year by leaping out of the water to snap at bait ( Ryan 1998). In many countries, ethnic minorities regard crocodiles as sacred and pray to their spirits ( Sinha 1995;Daltry et al. 2003;van der Ploeg et al. 2011a). But their best known contributions to humankind are their hides, which form a global multimillion dollar industry. ...
... The Philippine crocodile's decline has been largely attributed to hunting, destructive fishing methods, and conversion of freshwater habitats (van Weerd and van der Ploeg 2003). Its hide is not particularly valuable, but crocodile hunters turned to this species when saltwater crocodiles became scarce (van der Ploeg et al. 2011a). Nowadays, Philippine crocodiles are killed out of fear, for food, and for fun. ...
Chapter
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(Conclusions): The saltwater crocodile case study from Australia is this region’s best example of a well-managed industry that generates significant revenue from crocodile products in tandem with conserving wild populations. This is mirrored by equally impressive successes in the United States, where the American alligator has rebounded to 2–3 million individuals in the wild, while farms and ranches contain some 650,000 alligators and reap over USD 70 million annually (Elsey and Woodward 2010). These impressive cases are frequently cited as proof that exploitation is a powerful tool for both crocodile conservation and economic development. Importantly, such success is not restricted to wealthy countries: the case study from PNG— albeit underpinned with considerable international support— shows how organized hunting and ranching encouraged thousands of villagers to restore and protect crocodile habitats. On the other hand, legalizing exploitation through crocodile farming in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia has coincided with the near-total extirpation of saltwater and Siamese crocodiles in these and neighboring countries. Illicit harvesting to supply farms is still among the greatest threats to the few crocodiles that remain (Simpson and Bezuijen 2010). This industry benefited hundreds of farmers, traders, and fishers, but why has it failed to conserve wild populations as well? At their worst, crocodile farms and other authorized forms of exploitation not only deplete wild stocks, but create an illusion that action is being taken, even as wild populations disappear. This is evident in Indochina and the Philippines where, for many years, well-intentioned efforts and funds were invested in farming on the assumption this would help crocodiles in some way, and hardly any attention was paid to safeguarding wild crocodiles or their habitats. Similarly, the head-starting program that initially rescued the gharial in India and Nepal has side-lined the pressing need to tackle sand mining, illegal fishing, and other detrimental activities affecting wild populations in the Chambal and Ghagra rivers (Hussain and Badola 2001; Hussain 2009). The “feel good” measures of collecting eggs and releasing hatchlings have been the government’s priority in India (Nair et al. 2012). Drawing upon our experiences from Asia Pacific and other published cases, table 21.2 highlights a number of conditions that enable exploitation (hunting, farming, or ranching) to realize positive or negative outcomes for wild crocodilians. The most important factors are the standards of governance and levels of corruption in the country: if law enforcement and compliance are weak, exploitation can be open to abuse (National Research Council 1983; Laurance 2004). The countries covered in this chapter vary enormously in this regard; for example, while Australia ranked 9th in the world (very clean), Cambodia ranked a poor 160th in 2013. Aside from the range country’s ability to manage exploitation sustainably, variation among species in terms of their production costs and market value affects the types of initiatives that are economically viable. In PNG, for example, ranching of New Guinea freshwater crocodiles waned because their hides were less profitable than those of the saltwater crocodile. Tighter profit margins translate into hunters, farmers, and ranchers being less willing or able to “give something back” to conservation. However, the commercial skin trade is not the only way to promote the conservation of wild crocodilians, or indeed one that can achieve positive results in isolation. The case study from Australia demonstrates the need for effective law enforcement to protect wild stocks and highlights the importance of public education to mitigate human-crocodile conflict— especially among people who are not landowners or consumers, and hence see no personal economic gain from these dangerous animals. While saltwater crocodiles continue to be harvested, it is noteworthy that Australian freshwater crocodiles have recovered without exploitation. Similarly in India, the recovery of mugger crocodiles was achieved mainly through captive breeding, law enforcement, and protected areas, without commercial exploitation. Meanwhile in the Philippines, local communities are being successfully encouraged to tolerate and protect crocodiles for their intrinsic or cultural values, rather than material benefits. While some countries have found crocodile management strategies that work for them, this region is undergoing rapid changes in terms of human population growth, economic development, and ever-mounting pressures on wild habitats. Even countries that have achieved commercial and conservation success must continually re-examine and adapt their management strategies to meet the changing threats and opportunities. India, PNG, and Australia, for example, report rising attacks on humans, which urgently need to be addressed if wild crocodiles are to continue to be tolerated by local residents and their leaders. Not all of the power lies in the hands of range countries. The skin trade is a volatile business, subject to the global economy and the whims of fashionistas, many of them outside of the Asia Pacific region (Thorbjarnarson 1999). Yet the latter could become a powerful force for good if they favored crocodile leather produced according to sustainable and “fair trade” principles. As CITES certificates do not tell buyers the whole story, perhaps it is time to establish standards for crocodile products that meet high standards of sustainability, similar to the Forest Stewardship Council scheme for timber. This could enable conscientious consumers to choose products from farms or ranches that are genuinely sustainable and support crocodile conservation. For certain species and countries, controlled commercial exploitation will undoubtedly remain an important part of the crocodile management toolkit in the future. Consumer demand for crocodile skins, meat, and other products is unlikely to fall, and nobody could wish to return to the dark days of widespread illegal hunting. As the diverse experiences in this chapter demonstrate, however, any legalized exploitation must be firmly rooted in good governance, effective habitat protection, capacity building, monitoring, education, and community outreach if Asia Pacific’s remarkable crocodilians are to survive.
... Professional hunters systematically searched, killed and skinned crocodiles throughout the country. No specific legislation was enacted to regulate the harvesting and selling of crocodile skins in the archipelago; and by the end of the 1960s crocodile populations were severely depleted (van der Ploeg et al. 2011a). In 1975, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) banned all international trade in Philippine crocodile skins. ...
... This veneration is reflected in oral history and material culture. But Catholicism, colonialism and capitalism fundamentally transformed people's attitudes towards crocodiles (van der Ploeg et al. 2011a). Nowadays most people see crocodiles as man-eaters that should be exterminated. ...
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