CROC (community-based research, observance & conservation project)
Jan van der Ploeg
The Philippine crocodile was once widely distributed and abundant throughout the Philippines. Intensive hunting and habitat loss have led to the disappearance of C. mindorensis in most parts of the archipelago. In 1982 the wild population was estimated at 1000 individuals (Ross, 1998). Fifteen years later the Wildlife Conservation Society of the Philippines (WCSP), stated in the Philippine Red Data Book that: "no effective protection [of the Philippine crocodile] exist in the wild, and the only conservation at present consist of two small scale captive breeding efforts in the Philippines and one in the United States. […] There is little future for Philippine crocodiles in the existing and proposed wildlife sanctuaries and that captive breeding is the only hope for the species until public sentiment and awareness of conservation permit effective protection and implementation of reintroduction programs" (1997, op cit. p.77-78). However, in the spring of 1999 a research team 're-discovered' a population of Philippine crocodiles in the Sierra Madre Mountain Range (van Weerd, 2000). In the National Recovery Plan for the Philippine Crocodile, the authors, not aware of a remaining wild population in the Sierra Madre, wrote that the primary conservation goal is to re-establish C. mindorensis in the wild and ensure its long-term survival throughout its historic range (Banks, 2000, p.7). With the discovery of a remaining population of fresh water crocodile these priorities should perhaps be reconsidered. The Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park Conservation Project (NSMNP-CP) is currently trying to set up conservation program for the protection of the Philippine crocodile. This project, which is funded by the Dutch government, established a crocodile sanctuary, which will be managed by the local communities that live along the riverbanks (Rodriquez, et.al, 2001). There is, however, not enough scientific information about the last population of C. mindorensis in the wild and the context in which it survived. There is an urgent need to gain a better understanding of current distribution patterns, population size and dynamics, behaviour, and ecology of the Philippine crocodile. Socio-economic and cultural factors that that threaten C. mindorensis in the Sierra Madre are also poorly understood. The CROC project will fill in these crucial knowledge gaps and will provide a sound scientific basis for the implementation of the community-based conservation program in the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park.