JAKARTA — Officials in the eastern Malaysian Sarawak region are hoping that grim tales of limp fishermen’s corpses wedged between the jaws of giant crocodiles will soon be no more after granting 45 licences to hunters on Friday.
“Those who have obtained their licences from us can start harvesting crocodiles in the wild,” said Engkamat Lading, a local forestry department official.
Most of the permits will only allow hunters to sell crocodile meat locally, with three applicants for licences to export meat, skin or hatchlings under international rules governed by the Conventional on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, or CITES, according to the Borneo Post, a local newspaper that carried the official announcement.
The hunters will not get any official support beyond the granting of the licence, said Mr Lading, and the limited number of permits suggests that Sarawak will not yet be opening its jungles to troupes of croc-hunters on the lookout for a toothy trophy.
But Sarawak’s croc population is booming, leading to an increasing human toll. In 2016 local officials estimated that 27 people had been killed by crocodiles since 2010 and put the number of wild crocs at over 12,000.
Local media regularly feature lurid stories and photos of victims — fishermen, swimmers, bathers, women washing clothes in rivers — sometimes with remains pulled from a crocodiles stomach after an impromptu local hunt for the killer.
The culprit is usually the giant Saltwater Crocodile, which at up to 6m long and weighing around a tonne is the biggest reptile on earth and a scourge of beaches and rivers from India to Australia.
It is hoped that the granting of licences will allow for a thinning out of Sarawak’s so-called “problem” crocodile population, what Dr. James Perran Ross of the University of Florida and a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Crocodile Specialist Group said is “an admirable, well-conceived and likely to be completely sustainable program benefiting both crocs and rural people.”
At the same time it is hoped that the licencing system will ensure what Mr Lading called a “sustainable harvesting of the resource” – avoiding a repeat of what happened in Australia up to the early 1970s, where, with no rules in place, “salties” were hunted to near-extinction.
A subsequent ban on hunting has seen Australia’s Saltwater Crocodile numbers recover to the point where a national “crocwise” safety campaign attempts to warn the public of the dangers posed by the beasts, which now number around 100,000 in Northern Territory alone.
There is crocodile hunting in Papua New Guinea, and now there is speculation that a change in the Malaysian rules could prompt Australia to change its laws.
The boom in crocodile numbers across northern Australia has led to controversial calls to allow trophy hunting along the lines of so-called safari hunts that take place across Africa, and, as of Friday, the limited hunting sanctioned in eastern Malaysia.the limited hunting sanctioned in eastern Malaysia.