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Rural folks in the Irrawaddy delta township of Bogalay are living in fear of saltwater crocodiles after a series of incidents involving the creatures straying from a wildlife sanctuary and terrorising the local population.
More than two dozen crocs from the Meinmahlakyun (Pretty Woman’s Island) Wildlife Sanctuary have been protected under a conservation plan since the 1990s. Killing a crocodile is punishable with a 30,000-kyat (US$23) fine or five years in jail.
But villagers in the backwater hamlet of Hlelonekwe say the crocodiles have been straying increasingly from the wildlife sanctuary and have attacked local people and their livestock. A villager named Saw Naung became the latest victim on 7 November when he was mauled by crocodile while docking his boat on the river.
“I was docking the boat when it suddenly appeared out of nowhere and gnashed at my leg,” he explained. “I fell over into the water, and was pushing and kicking it away as I tried to get out of the river. I believe that I am only alive to tell this tale because some people nearby heard the commotion and ran over and pulled me out the water.”
Another villager, Soe Win, said he witnessed a child being snatched away by a crocodile.
“It was the young son of [fellow villager] U Hla Ngwe,” he said. “It was horrible to watch.”
Several locals in the town opined that they believe the crocodiles are straying out of the sanctuary to look for new habitats due to deforestation and a shortage of food due to over-fishing. They said there has been an average of two crocodile attacks in the area every year, prompting local authorities to erect warning signs along the river.
According to government statistics, there are more than 30 saltwater crocodiles at the sanctuary; the largest is believed to be about 18ft (5.5 metres) long.
Villager Hla Min said the crocodiles pose a more serious threat to those who rely on water transport every day.
“The crocodiles would often chase our boats when we were travelling in the river,” he said. “They have also been known to kill dogs and livestock such as pigs.”
Local authorities have warned villagers to pay particular caution when they go near the water during the crocodile mating and breeding season between April and November every year.