Thu. Jan 23rd, 2020

Captured Crocodile On Peleliu Could Pose Human Health Risk

A saltwater crocodile placed into a makeshift enclosure by a local family in Peleliu town is being kept in unhygienic, inappropriate conditions and may also represent a communicable disease hazard to humans, an expert scientist has said.

The Island Times understands that locals on Peleliu captured the salt-water crocodile a number of years ago. They placed it into a makeshift enclosure in the yard of a residential house, made out a sheet metal and meshed wirings. A concrete water basin barely larger than the fully-grown crocodile houses the animal, with an equally small dry concrete-floored space also being provided in the enclosure. Photos taken by the Island Times on site show dirty water filling the basin, and rotting coconuts littering the dry area.

It is believed that while salt-water crocodiles are a protected species in Palau, this particular animal is being kept as a curiosity that is occasionally shown to tourists and visitors.

Clifford Warren is a UK-based scientist who has conducted research for the Emergent Disease Foundation. He has authored numerous peer-reviewed academic papers about reptiles, the exotic pet trade, and risks of animal-to-human disease transmission.

Warren, who reviewed photos of the crocodile in its makeshift enclosure, told the Island Times “As a reptile biologist and a human medical health consultant I am confident that the conditions depicted in your photographs are poor for the crocodile and may also present a public health hazard.”

The expert argued that the conditions the crocodile is being kept in are unsuitable for the large reptile. “From an animal welfare perspective: crocodiles naturally roam large and diverse areas in nature and regardless of whether or not they are ‘fed regularly’ traveling those large areas is genetically ‘hard wired’ into their behaviour and needs. In some situations, i.e. crocodile farms, it can be common that these animals are kept in highly restrictive conditions. However, such conditions remain contrary to good welfare, and in my view are poor for those, and for this, animal.”

However, it is not just the animal that is being placed at risk by these inappropriate conditions, Warren made clear. “From a public health perspective: crocodilians characteristically harbour a raft of microbes that may and do act as human pathogens causing diseases ranging from gastroenteritis (food poisoning-like) to systemic necrotising infection. Preventing infection requires that people have no direct or indirect contact with the animals, this would include the close environment for the crocodile. In addition to the small and under-stimulating environment, the conditions for the crocodile do not appear to be very hygienic.”

“Is it not possible to encourage bigger and better conditions for this animal?”, Warren asked openly.

The Island Times has approached the Ministry of Justice’s Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection for comment on the matter. However, no formal statement from the Division was received by the time of going to press on Thursday evening. It is understood that the Division may seek advice on the matter from the Attorney General’s Office. However, a fire that damaged electrical and communications cables at Attorney General’s Office earlier this week has greatly affected workflows there, despite the best efforts of dedicated staff. (Colin C. Cortbus
/Reporting from Peleliu State)