Crocodile Management in Timor - Leste

Since independence in 2002, crocodiles have been strictly protected in Timor - Leste. Local authorities reported that they were hunted for skin during the Portuguese colonisation and Indonesian occupation. Since then, the numbers of crocodiles have recovered in Timor - Leste and their population is now believed to be stable. Simultaneous growth of human popualtion has led to increased human-crocodile conflict among many rural communities sharing the same habitat with crocodiles.   The Government of Timor - Leste has established a Crocodile Task Force with members from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Environment (MCIE) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) and the Ministry of Interior (MI) to approach the conflict and to elaborate a strategy to enable coexistence of crocodiles and people with respect to traditional beliefs. Here, four priority actions were identified:

  • Crocodile monitoring and identification of priority management areas
  • Risk mitigation: Removal of problem crocodiles and CEEs
  • Public awareness and education
  • Ecotourism

Crocodile management in Timor Leste faces several challenges, including limited funding and restricted technical capabilities. In addition, the unique spiritual status of crocodiles  requires tailored crocodile management with respect to local traditional beliefs. This calls for the implememntation of novel, cost-effective monitoring and management tools, as presented in the following sections.

 

 

 

Community-based Monitoring

Professional crocodile monitoring is costly and often requires advanced techniques and equipment, especially in the often rough terrain of Timor - Leste´s South coast, a premium habitat for crocodiles. Community-based monitoring (CBM) can be a cost-effective option to compile first information on crocodile´s population, habitat and attacks.  Although it may not subsitute professional and standardized crocodile monitoring allowing for representative information on crocodile population numbers, CBM has the advantage to integrate local stakeholder and their traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) into the management process.

 

In Timor - Leste, we tested a map-based CBM approach in Vessuro, Irabin de Baixo, Mehara and Malahara. Community maps were developed using QGIS and handed over to the local authorities who were asked to locate crocodile attacks and habitat. A total of 20 crocodile attacks could be assessed using this method. The map was placed in a central spot of the village to serve as a local information platform. A local focal point responsible for the map was nominated to compile and forward the information to the Crocodile Task Force on a regular basis. Here, all information is then collated in a database and visualized in a national risk map (Photo by Sebastian Brackhane).  

 

 

 

 

Problem crocodiles

The definition of the term "problem crocodile" is difficult within the unique cultural context of Timor Leste. Many rural communities distinguish between local "ancestor" crocodiles and foreign "troublemaker" crocodiles. The first type is worshipped as a grandfather and asscociated attacks are believed to be adequate punishment for crimes and "bad" people. These crocodiles are believed to hide when foreign people appearand cannot be caught and removed. Troublemaker crocodiles are migrants from other villages or from abroad. These crocodiles are not part of the traditional belief system and can be removed by the crocodile task force. The assumption of local authorities indicating migratory crocodiles from outside is not unreasonable. The increasing crocodile population in Timor Leste may trigger the dispersal of juvenile crocodiles from many habitats that have reached carrying capacity. Furthermore, crocodiles may also migrate from other countries such as Australia or Indonesia. This hypothesis is currently tested within a larger research project led by the Charles Darwin University in Australia.          

The Government of Timor Leste has established an enclosure for problem crocodiles in Hera near Dili. The enclosure does not only accommodate problem crocodiles from rural areas, but also crocodiles held as prestigious pets by local people in the capital Dilí and other communities. In this way the humane treatment of "problem" crocodiles can be ensured. In some instances after an attack, crocodiles were shot by local police  after consultation with  traditional elders (Photo by Yusuke Fukuda).    

 

 

Crocodile Exclusion Enclosure (CEE)

Crocodile Exclusion Enclosures (CEEs) are artificial constructions that enable safe performance of activities such as washing, bathing and watering. Professional CEEs consist of steel and wire, whereas more traditional CEEs are made of timber. CEEs are among the task force´s strategies to mitigate the human-crocodile conflict in Timor Leste. A guideline in Tetum explaining the effective construction of CEEs is in preparation (Photo by Anslem da Silva).