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Commentary: The real tragedy of Marina East crocodile is there was no real alternative to putting it down

SINGAPORE: I am perpetually in awe at the fact that the largest reptile species in the world – the saltwater crocodile or Crocodylus porosus – can be found right here in urban Singapore .

Then news emerged that a nearly 3m-long crocodile had come up onto Marina East Drive Beach, before being captured and ultimately euthanised on Oct 12. Excitement quickly gave way to exasperation.

Saltwater crocodiles are considered nationally critically endangered and are threatened by the destruction of estuarine mangroves and, pertinently, human persecution.

This was in stark contrast with the case of the Malayan tapir sighted in Punggol in July and in September. Advisories warning people to maintain safe distances were issued, and signs were posted around the park, proclaiming the same.

Like the tapir, this crocodile was also a possibly transient individual on the move who just stopped on our shores to bask in the sun, as crocodiles do. Why were these two cases treated differently?

As an educator, one of the things I teach my students is to guard their “emotional buttons”. And as a reptile lover myself, I could feel my own buttons being pressed as this story developed.

I saw it too in the reactions on social media: Some argued that crocodiles could pose a danger to beachgoers, especially families with young children. Others were unhappy that Singapore resorted to killing animals without fully exploring alternatives.  

Related:

CNA Explains: How common are crocodiles in Singapore and why was the one found on a beach put down?

ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE A NEGATIVE INCIDENT

Of course, saltwater crocodiles are large carnivores. But tapirs are 300kg relatives of the rhino and can be dangerous in their own right. As with almost all wildlife, they pose no direct threat to us if people maintain a safe distance.

However, given Singapore’s population density and the shocking intensity with which we use the land around us, it is only a matter of time before negative interactions occur.

On numerous occasions, I have encountered hikers and photographers bashing off trails in the nature reserves. In April, two hikers went missing in the forests of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, requiring rescue.

Should such incidents occur involving careless humans and a crocodile in the wild, they would have severe implications for the future of the crocodile population in Singapore. Unfortunately, as a nation, we have not yet developed the social etiquette and respect for nature required to coexist with these spectacular creatures.

Even in Norway, a walrus named Freya, which became famous for climbing onto boats to bask and sinking them, was shot by the authorities in August 2022 in the interest of public safety. Despite warnings that the 600kg tusked walrus could be dangerous, members of the public approached the animal, some even taking selfies or swimming up close.

Critics of the decision called for more patience in wildlife management, and to allow biodiversity a fair chance to find space in an increasingly human-dominated world.

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