Renovation and improvement information centre
Because the weather in January is usually not yet very good for fieldwork, we do other, indoor, activities during this time. Something that was needed for a long time already was the improvement of the information centre. This small building always doubled as an office and staff quarters, and there was not much space for displaying posters and other information materials that we had accumulated through the years. Also the walls, made of bamboo, were rotting away after many years of service.
So, with a minimum budget at hand we decided to replace the walls with legally harvested softwood species (Gmelina arborea). The roof and the supporting pillars were luckily still fine so could remain. The newly constructed building is slightly larger than the one it replaced, and now incorporates an additional room that can be used as a staff quarters (staff often sleep overnight before or after fieldwork). It doubles as a storage room, giving the rest of the rearing station a tidier look. Some additional furniture was purchased to display Philippine crocodile eggs, hatchlings that died in the station and a skeleton from a head-started crocodile that was brought in after it drowned in a fish net. The walls are adorned with posters and pictures about crocodile conservation. Finally the existing posters as well as a 3D model were incorporated into walls, making them less vulnerable to tropical storms.
Blood sampling and disease research UPLB VetMeds
We are always happy to accept students at the Municipal Philippine Crocodile Rearing Station (MPCRS) to do short internships or small research studies. In January, a student and an assistant professor in Veterinary Medicine of the University of the Philippines at Los Banos (UPLB) visited our rearing station to study the blood cell count of juvenile Philippine crocodiles. This study, however, was also new to the staff of the Mabuwaya Foundation, so several staff members as well as the information officer of the MPCRS were trained in taking blood samples and identifying the blood cells.
In the two day course, we captured and restrained all juveniles in the rearing station, and measured their body sizes. We do this every month for most individuals, to keep track of growth rates and check upon their health. However in case of a sick individual we often cannot tell what exactly is wrong with it. To learn this we practiced taking blood samples on the biggest 20 individuals (bigger is easier). In this manner, 4 staff members of Mabuwaya, and one student of UPLB, were trained in sampling. The blood samples were than prepared on a slide and stained with several colorations. Now the cells can be viewed under a microscope (brought by assistant professor Lastica and generously donated to the rearing station). Cells can be differentiated based on size and shape. The relative number of one cell type or the other determines the sort of health problem present in the animal (parasites, bacterial or viral infection etc.) Our crocodiles, based on the samples we took, are all quite healthy and free of diseases at this time.
Crocodile reward Dicatian
Every year, the Mabuwaya Foundation does surveys in cooperation with the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (MENRO) and residents of the villages, to count the crocodile population. On March 1 we visited the village of Dicatian, in the municipality of Divilacan. We went there for the first quarterly monitoring of 2012, but also to hand over the reward for the crocodile population of 2011. A festive meeting was organized together with the MENRO staff, with snacks and drinks, and at this meeting also the new calendar of 2012 was distributed to all 86 households of the village. The result of the quarterly counts of 2011 indicated that at least 10 crocodiles inhabit the area. This means that a reward of 10.000 peso (approximately 165 Euro) was given to the village fund of Dicatian. The people were not sure what they would do with the reward yet, however some people were thinking of having the solar power battery charger repaired.
The meeting also resulted in new reports of crocodiles. Several farmers saw crocodiles near their rice fields, they say there are two individuals there. Another person said he saw a crocodile in a pond near his house the previous Sunday when he was fishing there. He said he saw the crocodile when all of a sudden it caught a water bird from the bank. Follow up surveying has not resulted in any sightings of crocodiles. However, the area where crocodiles are believed to live now is a swampy area and very difficult to access. Hopefully later surveys will confirm these crocodile sightings.
The staff of the MENRO had an interesting report from a different village. According to the village leader of Dicambangan, a crocodile was accidentally captured there last January. They did not measure it but said “it was big, maybe 2 meters. It also had a transmitter on its tail”. The last part especially is interesting to us, because 10 of the crocodiles we released in 2009 had transmitters. At this time the batteries of these transmitters have long ago gone empty, so we cannot follow them anymore. If one of our crocodiles swam all the way to the sea, south, and then upstream a different river system, this indicates how far the released captive bred population could have spread by now! A good sign for the Philippine crocodile population in Divilacan.
Philippine Senate asks for better crocodile protection !
On 31 May 2012, the Philippine Senate adopted resolution 790 requesting for an inquiry in aid of strengthening laws protecting crocodiles in the Philippines. The Senate resolution was proposed by renowned Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago in response to the scientific papers presented during the opening day of the IUCN Crocodile Specialist Group in Manila on 22 May 2012. The resolution specifically mentions the presentation by the Mabuwaya Foundation on the Philippine crocodile conservation program in Isabela Province that is partly funded by FDB/Lacoste. Although the critically endangered Philippine crocodile and its habitat are protected by law, law enforcement is weak and nobody has ever been convicted of killing a Philippine crocodile. The killing of crocodiles and conversion of crocodile habitat continue to threaten this endemic species. The Senate resolution provides hope for better protection of Philippine crocodiles in the wild.
Quarterly monitoring and crocodile nests
Three crocodile nests were reported along Dinang Creek in Cadsalan village in the municipality of San Mariano in Isabela Province of northern Luzon. All three are mound nests and have been confirmed to contain eggs. They are expected to hatch at the end of July or early August. The quarterly monitoring survey further revealed a total of nine Philippine crocodiles in Dinang creek, of which four were adults. During quarterly monitoring surveys in other villages, an additional two adults and 18 juveniles were counted in Dunoy Lake, Narra Creek and Disulap River. The nests along Dinang Creek will be monitored by the Bantay Sanktuwaryo (Sanctuary guards): farmers and fishermen who reside near the creek and who have been trained by Mabuwaya to conduct crocodile surveys, protect crocodile nests and solve issues with crocodiles in their community.
Distribution of school supplies
School supplies were distributed to 468 children in Cadsalan village near the Dinang Creek Philippine crocodile sanctuary. 26 children were brought to the municipal Philippine crocodile rearing station that Mabuwaya is managing in San Mariano town (a trip of four hours by truck!) for a visit to learn more about the Philippine crocodile and to measure small crocodiles. Here, wild born hatchling crocodiles are raised until they grow big enough to have a high chance of survival in the wild, a practice called head-starting. The children will adopt one of the head-started crocodiles, monitor their growth, and eventually release them back into the wild. Mabuwaya links sustainable development and education to biodiversity conservation in remote areas such as San Mariano where Philippine crocodiles, and other threatened wildlife, still survive. See also the CROCS page for more information regarding the distribution of school supplies.
Crocodylus Porosus monitoring surveys
In July we conducted spotlight surveys, track surveys and interviews to find out more about reported saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) in the coastal area of Isabela. Of course we were also looking for signs of the Philippine crocodile while we were there. Two weeks of surveys in three different sites resulted in good data on saltwater crocodile occurrence based on interviews. However none were actually sighted. Many people see them in the rainy season, usually in brackish water ponds or rivers near the ocean. Indications are that there are two very large individuals, and one or more smaller ones. Although people often claim unrealistically large sizes, we estimate these are probably 4-5 meters in total length. No Philippine crocodiles were seen by people since 2010 after the super typhoon that hit the municipality hard.
All three Philippine crocodile nests that were found along Dinang Creek last June have hatched in July, within a week from each other. From the nests came 10, 14 & 14 hatchlings respectively; for every live hatchling a reward of 500 peso is paid to the village fund, so this year that will amount to 38 x 500 = 19,000 peso (approximately 380 Euro). In order to increase their chances of survival, the hatchlings are collected and reared in captivity. However, not all the hatchlings were brought to the rearing station as they could not all be caught. Several catching attempts resulted in a total of 13 hatchlings collected for the head-start program, and 25 hatchlings were left in the wild. We will continue to monitor them to keep track of their survival rates. The hatchlings to be head-started will be released back into the wild in 2014.
Practical training of the Bantay Sanktuwaryo members
A practical training on the marking and measuring of Philippine crocodile hatchlings was conducted at the municipal Philippine crocodile station in San Mariano on August 5, 2012 for the 10 Bantay Sanktuwaryo members (community Sanctuary guards). All BS members enjoyed the training and appreciated the importance of proper measuring and recording of data. The training was followed by an informal meeting with the BS members. All members gave an update on the activities in relation to crocodile conservation in their sites. The BS members in Dinang Creek happily reported the successful hatching of three nests with a total number of 38 hatchings of which 13 were collected and brought to the rearing station. No breeding was as yet observed in the Disulap River and Catallangan River/Dunoy area.