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Crocodile at Marina East beach that was put down posed 'significant risk' to public safety: Tan Kiat How

SINGAPORE: A large crocodile that was put down after it was sighted on a beach at Marina East Drive last month was assessed to pose a “significant risk” to public safety, said Senior Minister of State for National Development Tan Kiat How during parliament on Tuesday (Nov 7).

When there are sightings of crocodiles in Singapore, the National Parks Board (NParks) will first assess if there is an immediate threat to public safety.

If the crocodile is sighted at a recreational destination, NParks will trap it and try to relocate or rehome it, said Mr Tan.

“In doing so, NParks takes into account the strong homing instinct of estuarine crocodiles to return to the location of capture,” he said, adding that the crocodile will be “humanely put down” if there are no suitable options for relocation and rehoming.

“This approach is aligned with that taken in many other jurisdictions that have crocodiles or alligators, such as the city of Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory, where crocodiles are actively removed from areas of high human activity to reduce the likelihood of crocodile attacks,” said Mr Tan, noting that these crocodiles are either rehomed or put down.

In the case of the sighting at Marina East Drive, the nearly 3m-long saltwater crocodile was spotted around 2km away from East Coast Park. This is about a 10-minute swim for a crocodile moving at stealth in the waters, said Mr Tan.

“As East Coast Park is a popular destination that receives 7.5 million visits a year, the assessment was that the crocodile posed a significant risk to public safety.”

Mr Tan was responding to questions from Member of Parliament Nadia Ahmad Samdin (PAP-Ang Mo Kio) on the framework when deciding on the appropriate strategy for urban wildlife management, and the factors that determine the relevant approach for different species of wildlife.

Related:

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

NO FEASIBLE OPTION FOR RELOCATION

Mr Tan on Tuesday said that public safety is a major consideration in cases involving estuarine crocodiles as they are apex predators and “stealthy, opportunistic feeders”. 

“They have attacked and killed children and adults in other countries,” he said, citing the three suspected crocodile attacks that took place in Sabah in September. 

To protect the public, the Sabah authorities had to cull five large crocodiles, he added.

As for the crocodile at Marina East Drive, Mr Tan said NParks first explored the option of relocating the crocodile to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. In 2021, a 1.53m-long juvenile crocodile that was seen swimming in a canal near Fort Road was later relocated to the reserve.

But there was no capacity for more of the reptiles given the reserve’s large existing crocodile population of around 20 individuals, he added.

“In any case, moving the crocodile away from the Marina East beach would have risked it returning to the site, venturing to East Coast Park, or even straying into another area with high human activity along our coastline. 

“If so, it would pose a substantial threat to public safety, given its large size and predatory nature.”

10:47 Min

Mr Tan noted that NParks had also reached out to the Mandai Wildlife Group, which shared that multiple factors are considered in zoo population management and planning. 

These include whether the outcome of a move would favour the animal in terms of quality of life and welfare, and possible negative effects on the zoo’s institutional population planning and conservation commitments. 

In this case, Mandai determined that it would not be able to rehome the crocodile in a way that met these criteria, said Mr Tan. 

“As there was no feasible option for relocation or rehoming, NParks had to euthanise the crocodile in the interest of public safety. The decision was not taken lightly,” he said, adding that the procedure was done by a veterinarian in accordance with international standards. 

Other measures have also been put in place to mitigate the risks to public safety from Singapore’s wild crocodile population, said Mr Tan. 

NParks has installed fences at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve to prevent crocodiles from getting onto footpaths, as well as signs to alert visitors to the presence of the reptiles, and advise them to remain calm and back away if they encounter a crocodile. 

In addition, NParks also conducts regular population surveys of the reserve’s crocodiles and is exploring the use of technology to track their movements, said Mr Tan.

He added that NParks will continue to monitor and carefully manage the populations of local wildlife species to safeguard public health and safety, as well as work with partners such as the nature community and youth leaders to promote safe and responsible human-wildlife encounters in Singapore.

In response to a supplementary question by Ms Nadia on whether the government is looking into studying the behaviour of crocodiles more given that there are few of such studies locally, Mr Tan highlighted that NParks conducts regular ecology studies “at a large scale”.

Reiterating consultations with Australia’s Northern Territory, he said: “They are part of our efforts here in Singapore because they have much more experience dealing with crocodiles and alligators in their part of the world.”

Mr Tan added that best practices will be adopted from jurisdictions like the Northern Territory as well as other parts of the world.

Daily Cuts – Croc sighting at Marina East Drive

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