It’s definitely one for the books. Local officials told the media on September 4 that a 21-foot-long (6.4-metre-long), 2,369-pound (1,075-kilogramme) saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) has been caught by villagers in a marshland off Bunawan, a township located in the southern Philippine province of Agusan del Sur. The animal, nicknamed “Lolong,” is now under close observation by wildlife authorities for signs of stress following its much-publicised capture that became the stuff of news around the world.
It now appears that the crocodile is the biggest one on record. It easily dwarfs current Guinness World Records holder, another saltwater crocodile named Cassius, which measures 17.97 feet (5.48 metres) from snout to tail. Cassius lives in a nature park in Queensland, Australia.
However, scientists have suggested that Lolong’s length and weight should first be verified by other authorities to confirm the claims.
Herpetologist and Dangerous Encounters host Brady Barr told National Geographic News that he would “be surprised if it was truly six metres.”
Similarly, biologist Allan Woodward of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission noted that “there’s never been a crocodile longer than approximately 18 feet (5.5 metres).”
Biggest or not, Lolong has already gained worldwide attention, and videos of the colossal reptile being pinioned by villagers on a makeshift trailer quickly became viral.
The fate of the unlikely new darling of the online community also drew varying degrees of reaction, with some people demanding for the crocodile’s immediate release, even as others suggested that the animal should be kept in captivity in an enclosure that is as close to its natural habitat as possible. Others said that Lolong might become a target for poachers when left to roam the Agusan marshlands, the outskirts of which is now inhabited by people.
From beast to boon?
It should be noted that the hunt for the giant crocodile was launched around four weeks ago after two villagers and a water buffalo were reportedly killed in a spate of predatory attacks.
Officials did induce Lolong to vomit, but no human or animal remains turned up. But Barr told National Geographic News that a confirmation on whether the animal perpetrated the attacks or not would be impossible unless it is killed and gutted. Thus, he lauded the residents for not killing the crocodile.
“It’s great they didn’t kill it. That’s commendable [and] very rare,” he said.
The town’s mayor, Edwin Elorde, told the media that Lolong is destined to become the star of a new eco-tourism park that will be set up in Agusan del Sur. The park is expected to provide an economic advantage to many of the town’s poor residents, while at the same time showcasing the region’s biological diversity| and promoting its preservation.
But the plan has raised the hackles of animal rights activists in Manila. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) senior campaigner Ashley Fruno, for instance, told ABS-CBN News that their group is concerned the crocodile will just become a moneymaking venture.
“It’s clear that the promoters of this park are thinking only of their bank balance, without so much as an afterthought for the animal’s well-being,” Fruno said.
She said that PETA opposes the local government’s plan to hold Lolong in captivity because the animal “will not have freedom, [and] will not have the choice of food, friends, and habitat.”
“Animals in zoos exhibit a condition called zoochosis, where they will be frequently banging their heads, pace around, and repeatedly [show other signs of abnormal animal behaviour],” she said.
PETA urged officials to release the crocodile in a remote area where there are few people so that it can live comfortably and in peace. In the wild, saltwater crocodiles, or “salties,” as Australians affectionately call them, can live up to 70 years. Lolong is estimated to be around 50 years old already, so it is no wonder that it has grown to such an impressive size.
But work is not over for wildlife officials deployed in Bunawan. As of press time, search is underway for an even bigger crocodile that villagers say they have also seen roaming the marshy outskirts of the town.
Ancient Super Crocs
Lolong might indeed become the biggest saltwater crocodile on record, but he would definitely not go down in history as the biggest crocodilian to ever walk the face of the Earth. Around 112 million years ago, during the early Cretaceous period, an extinct ancient relative of modern crocodiles known as Sarcosuchus imperator (“flesh crocodile emperor”) roamed areas that are now part of sub-Saharan Africa.
Based on incomplete fossil records, researchers believe these crocodile-like reptiles measured between 37 to 40 feet (11.3 to 12.2 metres) in length and weighed a staggering 8,000 to 10,000 kilogrammes (17,637 to 20,046 pounds). This means that a typical Sarcosuchus specimen could have easily been twice as long as Lolong, and eight to 10 times times heavier.
Until recently, all that was known about the Sarcosuchus genus came from a small number of fossilised teeth and armour plates, which were unearthed in the 1940s by French palaeontologist Albert-Félix de Lapperant from the Sahara Desert.
In 2000, however, another African expedition led by American palaeontologist Paul Sereno and partly funded by the National Geographic Society uncovered more complete specimens, one of which even had a nearly intact 6-foot-long (1.8-metre-long) skull. The discoveries were made at a fossil graveyard called Gadoufaoua in Niger.
Like today’s modern crocodilians, the Sarcosuchus imperator also prowled riverbanks, where it hunted giant fish and smaller dinosaurs using its enormous jaws.
Another ancient gargantuan crocodyliform is the Deinosuchus (“terrible crocodile”), an extinct relative of modern-day alligators that lived 80 million years ago. The largest Deinosuchus specimens are believed to have also grown to up to 40 feet (12.2 metres) in length and weighed up to 8,500 kilogrammes (18,739 pounds).
The genus Deinosuchus used to live in North America, where it preyed upon fish, dinosaurs, and ancient marine turtles. American palaeontologist David Scwimmer suggested in 2002 that in the animal’s eastern range, no large theropod dinosaurs approached the Deinosuchus’s massive size, indicating that the crocodilian could have been the apex predator in those regions.
King crocs that ruled over dinosaurs? Now, those really are Super Crocs for the ages.