IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

NParks steps up patrols at reserve after crocodile spotted

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 3, 2013

THE National Parks Board (NParks) has stepped up patrols at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve since visitors, including school children, encountered a crocodile on one of its public footpaths two weeks ago.

A spokesman said yesterday that if park rangers spot crocodiles on footpaths, the reserve would advise people to avoid those areas.

On Nov 20, a teacher with several seven-year-old pupils of United World College of South East Asia came across a 3m-long saltwater crocodile 20m away.

It entered the water when the teacher and another visitor approached slowly to assess the situation. No one was hurt.

Saltwater crocodiles, one of the most deadly predators on the planet, have been regularly sighted at Sungei Buloh in recent years. But they were usually found in the water or on mudflats away from visitor routes.

Up to 10 saltwater crocodiles are thought to live in Singapore waters around the north-western coastline, up from two in 2008.

International crocodile experts have hailed the animals' presence as a conservation success story for Singapore, stressing that the risk to visitors is minimal as the reptiles are generally shy and retiring around humans.

The experts endorsed existing NParks' safety measures of placing warning signs and safety advisories around the reserve.

They said visitors need to heed advice such as not straying off footpaths into the water, and not feeding the crocodiles.

"Education is the most important safety measure," said Dr Benoit Goossens, a wildlife conservationist at the Danau Girang Field Centre in Sabah, Malaysia.

Having rangers walk the trails to ensure there are no crocodiles is also a good move, said reptile expert and National Geographic Channel host Brady Barr, who has studied crocodiles around the world.

But the experts and park visitors proposed additional ways for the reserve to assuage the fears of some people. "Perhaps they should specifically brief those on school excursions on safety," said regular visitor Richard Seah, 58, a photographer who spotted the crocodile on Nov 20.

Principal of Yangzheng Primary, Mrs Jacinta Lim, supported the idea of such briefings.

But adult supervision was still the most essential way to keep school children safe, she added. "Kids being kids, when they get excited, they forget. We have to ensure there are enough teachers supervising, to have many pairs of eyes looking out for them."

Dr Barr offered his help to NParks to study the crocodiles to better understand them. There have been no studies of Singapore's wild crocodile population.

"They need to be captured, measured, tagged, gender determined, flush their stomachs to see what they're eating, then release them unharmed," he said.

"This way you can monitor their health, movement and population growth."

davidee@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 3, 2013

To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to http://www.sphsubscription.com.sg/eshop/