By FILEMON G. ROMERO, Ph.D.
TUBIG INDANGAN, Simunul, Tawi-Tawi: The municipality of Simunur (Sama spelling for Simunul) in Tawi-Tawi is known to be the first seat of Islam where the Arab missionary Sheikh Karimul Makdum started to preach Islam to the natives and built the first mosque in Barangay Boheh Indangan in 1380.
While a new mosque has been built in the same area, the four pillars which are believed to be from the original mosque are still preserved and is one of the oldest Islamic artifacts of the country. This mosque is the favorite destination of many tourists who visit Tawi-Tawi.
Now in addition to the other natural rain catchment pools, white sandy beaches, excellent SCUBA (Self-contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) diving sites, there is a new tourist attraction which has gained the interest of tourists especially wildlife enthusiasts. This is the largest saltwater crocodile kept in captivity in the country today.
This is the Indo-Pacific crocodile or the saltwater crocodile and its scientific name is Crocodylus porosus. It was caught in the coastal waters of Sokah Bulan, Tampakan, Simunur by a group of fishermen led by Hadji Bullang using a lambat or fish net on September 8, 2017.
The Indo-Pacific crocodile is one of the two known species of crocodiles in the Philippines. The other one is the endemic Philippine Crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) the freshwater crocodile which is only found in the Philippines.
The Indo-Pacific Crocodile is widespread and is found in the saltwater habitats and brackish wetlands of India, Southeast Asia and even northern Australia and Micronesia. It is the largest of all living reptiles, as well as the largest riparian predator in the world and has a lifespan of 70 years.
In Tawi-Tawi the known habitats of these saltwater crocodiles are the mangrove areas of Panglima Sugala, Languyan and Tandubas.
When this was caught, the croc was about 16 ft. and 11 inches long and had a breast diameter of 3ft and 1 in. Since this species is listed under CITES (Convention on International Trade Endangered Species) as endangered and protected by the Wildlife Act, RA 9147, Series of 2001, when the report was received about the capture of this crocodile, coordination was done with then Governor Rashidin H. Matba and then Mayor Nazif Abdurhaman to ensure that the animal would be safe.
A team upon instructions from BMB Director Mundita Lim, Secretary Kahal Kedtag of DENR ARMM, PENRO Hadji Dr. Jonel Mohammad Monel, CENRO Halim Jowak and Forester Abdulmukim J. Maruji with support from USAID Protect Wildlife Project headed by Dr. Filemon G. Romero went to the area to check on the status of the saltwater crocodile.
The place where they have safely kept the crocodile in a swampy mangrove area within the municipal complex of Simunul was visited to determine if it is the right habitat for the crocodile.
This was followed by a meeting with the barangay officials and the municipal administrator and they submitted a resolution to the DENR ARMM adopting the crocodile since it is a threatened species and is covered by the Wildlife Act, RA 9147, S. 2001 with the DENR giving guidelines how to take care of this threatened species in captivity.
Many wondered how this crocodile reached Simunul because salt water crocodiles were decimated in the area to point of local extinction because of hunting of this species for its hide to be made into expensive leather material and habitat destruction.
This saltwater croc may have come from Panglima Sugala so even if they are known to be poor swimmers, this one may have drifted with the current or wandered away in search of food.
However, the natives of Simunul say that in 1968, there was an account of a large python which fought with saltwater crocodile where both died. Also if one remembers the Kissa about Napsa Lagayan who was kidnapped by the Sultan of Sulu: “Pagdatung sin bana dain ha paglawagan usaha, nangasubu bang hariin in asawa, in bayta kaniya ayaw mo na lawaga, nakaun na sin buwaya”. (When her husband arrived home after looking for livelihood, he asked for the whereabouts of his wife, but someone told him not to look anymore for his wife as she had been devoured by a crocodile).
And from the script of the same Kissa kan Napsa Lagayan written by the playwright Sharifa Pearlsia Ali-Dans who directed the play when she was a faculty member of the Notre Dame of Jolo College she wrote that Tuan Amilhamja, husband of Napsa Lagayan, upon knowing that his wife was eaten by the crocodile said: “Sapanjang sin ummul ko, In Tamba Kadkarun ku, In Buaya Banta ku”. (As long as I live I will search for my post, and the crocodile is deemed my enemy).
This is a historical account that the crocodiles were abundant in the swamps of Simunur even during the time of the Sultanate.
Now the local government of Simunul has adopted this saltwater crocodile, has named as Papa Bulls, after the man who captured it, Hadji Bulla. It is safely kept in a swamp area in the grounds of the municipal complex. The Municipal Tourism Officer has included a visit to the swamp area where Papa Bulls is taken cared of as one of the places to visit in Simunur. Now Papa Bulls is in good health and has already grown to more than 17 ft. in length.
FILEMON G. ROMERO