Saltwater Crocodile Attack in Rio Tuba, Palawan
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Saltwater Crocodile Attack in Rio Tuba, Palawan

Crocodile attack in Rio Tuba, Palawan revived fears of this merciless predator.

Once again, news on saltwater crocodile attack in Rio Tuba, Palawan revived fear among residents on this merciless predator. About twenty years back, a crocodile also victimized a fisherman, in the same place. It was a 17.5 foot crocodile that sustained a gaping abdominal wound due to a home made fish bomb. Below is a picture of that crocodile with the author who once worked as a research specialist in the crocodile conservation facility located in Puerto Princesa.

saltwater crocodile picture

Image Source

That crocodile died a few days after capture because of the wound. Its stomach contents consisted of digested material including an underwear and some pubic hair. Bones are easily degraded in the crocodile's highly acidic stomach and could not be found among the stomach contents.

The victim was cut in half because of the tremendous biting force of the saltwater crocodile. Large crocodiles have an estimated biting force of two tons! Who would survive that.The large, tanned skin together with the skeleton is now displayed in the lobby of the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center (PWRCC) (once RP-Japan Crocodile Farming Institute) in Irawan, Puerto Princesa. 

The present crocodile that victimized a resident of Rio Tuba as of this writing is still at large. It is possible that this crocodile is of the same size as that predator two decades back. It must be big because crocodiles consume prey proportionate to its size. Large crocodiles feed on large prey while smaller ones make do with smaller prey. 

According to news reports, a fisherman in his mid-thirties was missing the past few days while out to gather firewood. According to Police Chief Nangit of Bataraza, the body was found floating early in the morning yesterday, apparently with the crocodile still biting the torso. Searchers surrounded the body and scared off the crocodile with torch batteries. They were then able to retrieve the mangled body where the left leg was missing.

Such attacks happen whenever humans unwittingly venture into the habitat of the crocodiles. The male crocodile in particular exhibits territorial behavior and would defend its territory which overlaps the smaller territories of females. Common habitats frequented by saltwater or estuarine crocodiles are the mangrove areas which is extensive in the area where the attack happened (marked with yellow boundaries in the figure below). Estuaries are rich in aquatic life and would sustain a large predator such as the crocodile.

mangrove habitat of crocodiles

Looking closely at the map and enlarging it interestingly reveals extensive development has taken place on land next to the mangrove area. Many houses can be seen both along the major river and on land. This means that human population has expanded which requires greater amount of natural resources to support. Presumably for this reason, human-crocodile encounter became much more frequent which resulted to such incident above. Unless this large crocodile is removed from its habitat or caution exercised by the residents by not venturing into the crocodile's habitat, more incidents of crocodile attack may occur.

Crocodiles are known to increase about a foot annually. This means that this predator crocodile may have been just a small hatchling when that 17.5 foot crocodile, which may have been its parent, was caught twenty years ago. 

Well, what can you expect from a reptile with just a cigar-sized brain? Despite this apparent setback, however, crocodiles are not to be underestimated. These animals survived for more than 200 million years because of their keen sense of smell, sight and sound perception as well as general adaptability to dangerous situations.


Meanwhile, on July 11, 2011, news spread out about the capture of 13.7 foot crocodile in Rio Tuba by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) Enforcement Team composed of personnel from PCSD, Palawan State University (PSU) and Palawan Wildlife Rescue & Conservation Center (PWRCC). It is possible that this may be the killer crocodile that victimized the fisherman. A gastric lavage will have to be done to find evidence that this animal was responsible for the killing. A gastric lavage is done by inserting a plastic tube inside the secured mouth of the crocodile to access the stomach, pouring water into it on a diagonal, upward position then tilting the crocodile down to enable it to regurgitate its stomach contents.

It will be difficult to make a conclusive statement about this crocodile being "guilty" because if it ever did ingest a human leg with a bony part, nothing will remain of it because the crocodile's stomach is quite acidic. The search will be for the presence of human hair from the left leg of the victim as hair can resist digestion.

©23 June 2011 Patrick A. Regoniel Crocodile Attack in Rio Tuba, Palawan

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Comments (8)

I saw the latest victim in the news Patrick. So sad, he was so young about 35. I never thought that Palawan has so many crocodiles. Pag na mention and crocodiles, ibang bansa ang naiisip kong marami nito. Kidding aside, in our country 'buwayas' are referred to policemen lol... Sa totoo lang sa isang pulis lang ako nabaitan, the rest are not trustworthy. Whenever, I go to some place and get lost, I ask security guards for directions not policemen. Ano ba yan, sorry, sa tunay na buwaya nga pala tayo. Good article Patrick, I agree with you crocs should never be underestimated.

I understand your concern about policemen. But there are still many good cops out there. It must be a values problem in our country. Crocodiles actually are not voracious. They consume only very little relative to their size as they are reptiles. A study revealed that crocodiles actually enrich their habitat because of their excretions. In one location in the Amazon, when crocodiles were hunted down and their population decimated, fish production also went down. Scientists discovered that crocodiles fertilize algae that provide food for grazing fishes.

Nice picture.=) I did not realize that crocodile attack unprovoked. The only crocodiles I saw are the ones in captivity (Crocodile Farm in Davao) I'm scared to even look at them. When one is not careful, you could step on it at night. I hope nobody gets victimized again, esp. not the little ones.=(


I do not think the saltwater crocodile population anywhere in Palawan is strong. Actually, I think it is very small and critically endangered. The most recent fatal attacks have occurred on the western coast near Rizal town but this is the first in Rio Tuba in a very long time. I don't recall residents mentioning crocodiles in the area until now. I think it is likely this large male is one of the few remaining crocodiles within the Rio Tuba area and fatal attacks seem to happen more often within environments that are under extreme pressure from the human population. In short, very few crocodiles does not mean large males do not exist....often the larger ones have been around longer and know how to avoid humans efficiently. I definitely do not think they should be hunting this was likely an opportunistic feed because the man (tragically and unknowingly) put himself in harms way. Another important note, recent scientific studies show that, despite the crocodile's small brain size, they are actually quite intelligent (actual brain size is being shown to be less important than was once thought) and are capable of not only name recognition, but evidence shows possible emotional connections between individuals. After all, crocodilians are more closely related to birds than any other living thing, and certain bird species exhibit primate-level intelligent (crows, macaws, etc.)

Thanks for your comment Brandon. I agree with you that few crocodiles exist in Palawan and endangered at that. Our spotlight surveys sometime in the 1990s in two rivers (e.g. Taritien and Bacungan Rivers) where crocodiles are spotted and caught revealed only one or two sightings in a 5-7 kilometer stretch. Crocodiles have been living in these places almost undetected but the increased encounter between humans and crocodiles appear to be due to increased economic activity in the habitat of crocodiles. Crocodiles are very shy and avoid humans as much as possible but the recent attack appears to be a case of a large male trying to protect its territory. Or probably a female trying to protect its nest as this season is the time female crocodiles wait for their eggs to hatch. An option to reduce the threat of attack may be for humans to avoid venturing into known crocodile habitat.

Very interesting piece. I learned a lot about crocodiles I didn't know.

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jestoni mentoy