KOTA KINABALU, May 14 – The Sabah government is encouraging crocodile hunting licences as a means to control the increasing crocodile populations in the state’s waterways.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Christina Liew said the licences were available through the State Wildlife Department but there has been minimal interest.

“Despite this opportunity, there has been minimal uptake or interest in obtaining these hunting licences, and as a result, there is currently no crocodile industry in Sabah producing downstream products,” she said at a crocodile and human conflict management workshop here today.

Liew said that the slow uptake was due to a perceived low demand for the product, concerns over rigid raw skin quality control, and the expectation of minimal profit margins.

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“I implore those of you here today, especially representatives from relevant agencies, to lend your expertise and support in exploring and initiating the crocodile industry here in Sabah. By collaborating closely with the Sabah Wildlife Department, we can work towards overcoming the obstacles that have hindered progress in this area,” she said.

Liew said it was a good opportunity to harness the state’s natural resources in a sustainable manner and benefit the people.

“It is my sincere hope that these measures will not only alleviate conflicts but also open doors to new opportunities, such as tourism and the production of luxury goods, thus enhancing our local economy.

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“Therefore, in the future, crocodiles will not be feared but rather appreciated by the people.

“As we move forward, it is our responsibility to chart a course that balances the conservation of crocodile populations with ensuring the safety and livelihoods of our communities,” she said.

She also said that there was a need to help educate the public about the growing conflict between humans and crocodiles.

There has been a spate of crocodile-related incidences in the state, some resulting in fatalities. There has also been sightings reported at busy recreational spots like Tanjung Lipat and most recently in the waters off Mamutik island.

The saltwater crocodile is a protected species in Sabah, and in 2016, Malaysia moved the its status from Appendix I to II, with hunting in the wild permitted only in Sarawak and a zero quota hunting of wild specimens for the rest of Malaysia.

The only data of the number of crocodiles in the state is from a two-year study from 2017 to 2019, where 2,886 crocodiles in 10 rivers.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga was previously reported saying that they were understaffed and unable to handle each sighting with urgency as crocodile sightings and reports tend to be scattered across the state.

He also said the current practice of culling attacking crocodiles is the most feasible and sustainable method currently.

However, biologist professor Benoit Goossens from the Danau Girang Field Centre said culling, and hunting could also pose dangers to the ecological balance.

He said that a quota was needed to avoid overhunting and the killing of large crocodiles in a river system due to human-crocodile conflict could potentially create ‘power vacuums’ where other males moved in to replace the dead ones.

He also said that awareness and education plans should be put in place as large numbers of crocodiles did not necessarily equal to a higher number of crocodile attacks.