Sumatran Translocation and Education

Human and crocodile conflict is unfortunately a way of life in this new age of urbanisation of crocodile habitat. As we develop more and more land, we find ourselves closer to these amazing apex predators. When the phone rang, it was Indonesia calling, and they needed the help of Australia Zoo's International Crocodile Rescue Unit (ICRU), as Toby Millyard explains:

"A large Saltwater (or Estuarine Crocodile) was believed to be causing conflict on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. In a preliminary trip to asses the situation, the head of the ICRU Brian Coulter, scouted the area for the crocodile in question and also for possible release sites. Briano deemed it necessary to translocate the crocodile due to its large size, its somewhat aggressive nature and its close proximity to villages, which are nestled in the forest, right on the river banks.

"When the tsunami hit in 2004, it killed a vast tract of mangroves, which were no longer able to support and feed a crocodile population. This forced the particular crocodile further upstream into a conflict with the villagers, who were not accustomed to having crocodiles in their river. Briano returned to Australia Zoo to assemble a team, the gear needed to trap a large croc, and an education program to inform the locals of basic crocodilian biology and safety.

"When Briano returned to Banda Aceh, Sumatra, he took me along with him and we began the task of trapping the crocodile, as well as training the local rangers from Fauna and Flora International (FFI), and the BKSDA (Forestry Department). On arrival to the village of Woyla, we conducted a survey of the river to find evidence of where the crocodile was hanging out, so we could set our floating trap. We found a big fresh mud slide, that could only have been made by a massive croc belly, only a few hundred metres from the village, right where the last fatality had occurred. So we began to assemble the trap amongst the circus of curious onlookers and well-wishers. Using a local boat we moved the trap to the site and set it in the hope of catching him that night.

"We woke up the next day and requested that we drive, rather than take a boat to check the trap, so as not to disturb the crocodile in the river. We thought this was a great idea until our four wheel drive almost fell through a bridge, which could have sent us falling 100 metres into the river below! We finally arrived at the trap and discovered that we'd had success! Our target crocodile was wildly thrashing around in the trap. In an effort to calm him, we placed palm fronds on top of the trap to shade him and tied the trap mouth shut to prevent any escape attempt. At this point we thought it was necessary to give him a name and we chose 'Woyla' in honour of the river and village from where he came.

"Next began the lengthy negotiations for a release site. Due to the logistics of moving such a large animal, it was decided that he would be placed in a wildlife holding facility outside Banda Aceh until his transport to the release site was finalised. So with the help of our newly trained rangers, we needed to remove the crocodile from the trap and put him into his transport box for the drive to the holding facility. This proved a mighty task due to the hundreds and hundreds of curious onlookers who had come from miles around to watch. Keeping these onlookers out of harm's way was our highest priority. Upon removing the crocodile from the trap, we were able to measure him and he was a whopping 4.7 metres (15.4 feet)! His transport box was loaded onto a ute and we began the seven hour long journey to the holding facility.

"Several weeks later when the logistics of his transport to the release site were finalised, our newly trained rangers flew him by plane and then helicopter to a new remote wilderness area, where he can happily live without conflicting with any humans.

"Solving this problem long term is two pronged: Firstly there must be an assessment of the individual animal, including locality, injuries that may make it a threat (due to its inability to catch natural prey), possibility of translocation. Secondly and most imoprtantly: human education.

"In an effort to ensure the safety of the villagers in the event of another crocodile passing through, Briano and I conducted several safety talks on living with crocodiles and how to stay safe. On return to Australia, we created a guidebook for living with crocodiles and some large signs to be placed in the villages, warning people about the dangers of crocodiles. We will continue to monitor the situation with the help of the rangers from FFI and BKSDA"