Dead crocs will undergo autopsies: PUB

Observers had asked why the carcass of Barney the saltwater crocodile (above), found on April 18, had not been sent for an autopsy. Machinery clearing aquatic plants such as water hyacinths from the surface of Kranji Reservoir (right).
Observers had asked why the carcass of Barney the saltwater crocodile (above), found on April 18, had not been sent for an autopsy. Machinery clearing aquatic plants such as water hyacinths from the surface of Kranji Reservoir (right).PHOTOS: ST READERS
Observers had asked why the carcass of Barney the saltwater crocodile (above), found on April 18, had not been sent for an autopsy. Machinery clearing aquatic plants such as water hyacinths from the surface of Kranji Reservoir (right).
Observers had asked why the carcass of Barney the saltwater crocodile (above), found on April 18, had not been sent for an autopsy. Machinery clearing aquatic plants such as water hyacinths from the surface of Kranji Reservoir (right).PHOTOS: ST READERS

The authorities have come up with fresh procedures to deal with dead crocodiles, after questions were raised over the handling of the carcass of a crocodile nicknamed Barney.

National water agency PUB and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) have reviewed the procedures, PUB told The Straits Times yesterday.

"In the event that any dead crocodiles are found, PUB will send the carcass to AVA for an autopsy to determine the cause of death," a spokesman added.

Observers had voiced doubts about how the authorities had not done an autopsy to find out the cause of death of Barney, a 400kg saltwater crocodile found dead at Kranji Reservoir on April 18.

The 3.6m-long reptile was found dead with a metal rod in its eye and a large fishing hook lodged in its mouth. PUB said yesterday that it was investigating it as a case of poaching but has yet to find the culprits.

The carcass of Barney, believed to be one of the largest wild specimens here, had been disposed of at a nearby farm.

Long Kuan Hung Crocodile Farm, the only one here, had said it did not receive the carcass.

Yesterday, observers like Strix Wildlife Consultancy director Subaraj Rajathurai welcomed the revised procedure, calling it a step in the right direction.

But Mr Subaraj, 51, who has more than 30 years' experience in wildlife work, said the change should be extended: Autopsies should be carried out on all animals without an immediate known cause of death.

"The crocodile was a native, endangered species - it is important to know what caused its death." he said. "In a nature area such as Kranji Reservoir, which is also a drinking water supply area, it is also important to find out what killed the reptile, as the safety of the public is at stake."

Dr Edmund Lam, 54, chief executive of a copyright association, also applauded the news, saying he was "happy to hear" it.

He had written in to The Sunday Times Letters page on May 11 after the death of Barney was reported, to ask for clarification on the authorities' usual procedure when faced with a carcass "of an animal belonging to a significant wildlife species".

"It's the right thing to do - a saltwater crocodile is rare," he told The Straits Times yesterday.

Separately, PUB said yesterday that it is carrying out work on the Kranji Reservoir to remove an excessive number of water hyacinth plants on its surface.

This is to help "maintain a balanced eco-system and a relatively clear water surface", it said.

"Excessive growth reduces the water surface area for oxygen exchange and this can limit the levels of dissolved oxygen levels in the reservoir."

It was responding to queries from The Straits Times, after a reader sent the paper photographs of machinery clearing flotsam at the reservoir. It said the growth was due to the quick reproduction of the plants within the reservoir, as well as at the rivers upstream.

Recent storms had washed the plants downstream into it, it said.

During the dry spell in February, it had not been able to "deploy aquatic plant removal machineries into the... upstream areas in Sungei Kangkar and Sungei Tengah as the water depth was too shallow", said PUB. Works to reduce the aquatic plant population at the reservoir are expected to be completed by mid-July.

audreyt@sph.com.sg