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Thailands National Parks The Parks of Thailand, Post your stories and pictures here.

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Old 29-11-2011, 08:28 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Siamese Crocodile: The last few survivors

One of the world's rarest crocodilians

Two hundred and thirty million years ago, the first crocodilians evolved from archosaurs or ‘ruling reptiles’ during the mid-Triassic period of the Mesozoic era when primitive dinosaurs also roamed the planet. Crocodiles have changed little in body structure since then. Apart from birds, these reptiles are the only living archosaurs.


My first wild Siamese crocodile in Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary - note the forest fly on the eye 'node'

Fossil remains of crocodiles have been discovered in many places around the world and some of these were giants estimated to measure 8 to 12 meters long, and weighing in at about 8.5 to more than 10 tons. The name ‘super-croc’ has been coined for these prehistoric predators. They pulled dinosaurs and other large animals into the water and devoured them exactly like modern-day crocs do.

A short fifty years ago, Thailand had three species of croc that lived in many different habitats: the sea, river estuaries, deep in the forest and swamps. The three are: the Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) and was considered a pest by village folk who lived near waterways that had the reptiles. Another thin-snouted freshwater crocodile was (Tomistoma schlegelii), also known as the ‘false gharial’ was found only in rivers of the southern peninsula, and the estuarine ‘saltwater’ crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) found in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea.


I had the great fortune to see and photograph two wild Siamese crocodiles in Thailand. In 2001, I made a trip to Khao Ang Rue Nai Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Thailand where one was reported to be lurking in Klong Takrow in the interior. The other individual was surviving in the Phetchaburi River that runs through Kaeng Krachan National Park in the Southwest.



Klong Takrow in Khao Ang Rue Nai - crocodile habitat

The following account of these two remarkable survivors was confirmed by catching them both on film several years apart. Very few photographs have been taken of these submarine predators and up-dated reports confirm they still both survive at these locations.

Khao Ang Rue Nai in the province of Chachoengsao, is about three hours drive east from Bangkok. The protected area, consisting mainly of semi-evergreen forest with many streams, is eastern Thailand’s largest remaining tract of lowland rainforest.


The opportunity to photograph one of Thailand’s most endangered animals had been a dream of mine for some time. A decade ago, I erected a photographic blind on the banks of Klong Takrow (a tributary of the Bang Ba Kong River) in the sanctuary close to where a crocodile had been recorded seen basking in the sun.


I entered the blind in early morning darkness and waited. The murky waters of the forest pool lay still and quiet in the morning heat. Now and then a fish catching an insect or a falling leaf would disrupt the mirror image of the pond. It was nature at its best.


Dripping with sweat, I sat hoping to see a crocodile. A slight movement in the water at the far end of the pool caught my eye. The crocodile surfaced and then submerged moving closer to its basking spot. Slowly, only its eyes and snout rose to the surface. A large forest fly landed on the bony ridge behind its eye to drink the salty secretions from the croc’s eye.


As the reptile checked the surrounding area for danger, I snapped a long series of photographs of Thailand’s most endangered animal. Suddenly, as if sensing it was not alone, the croc submerged and disappeared into the depths of the pool. My dream had come true and 230 million years of evolution had just passed through my lens.


Wild Siamese crocodile camera trapped at a favorite basking spot in Khao Ang Rue Nai

For capturing images of such elusive creatures like crocodiles, infrared camera traps are another alternative to endless days of sitting in a hot photo-blind. Crocodiles are creatures of habit, so I set a camera trap at its favorite basking spot. The croc was caught on film many times during a two-week period and the photograph in this thread was the best. Since these crocs can live for 60-70 years, it is hoped this individual will be in Khao Ang Rue Nai for some time to come.

My second adventure with a wild Siamese crocodile was in Kaeng Krachan National Park, the Kingdom’s largest national park with an area of some 2,915 square kilometers. It is probably one of Thailand’s most intact ecosystems, and much was saved by the national logging ban in 1989.


My second wild crocodile in the Phetchaburi River in Kaneg Krachan National Park, southwest Thailand

The main watercourse is the Phetchaburi River, which flows down to the Kaeng Krachan reservoir from the Tenasserim Range straddling the border with Burma. Kaeng Krachan is just three hours drive southwest of Bangkok.

In early 2001, park rangers found crocodile tracks along the river and a Siamese crocodile was camera trapped on a sandbar. A few months later, I found another set of tracks further upriver from the first set.


In March 2003, while tending camera traps by the Phetchaburi River, I found a fresh crocodile feces and some tracks on a sandbar by the waterway. I quickly built a photographic blind across the river. After a two-day wait, a mature croc emerged at the deep end of the pool at 11am.


Fresh crocodile tracks by the Phetchaburi River

Fortunately, it was just within range of my Minolta 600mm lens with a 2X tele-converter and unfortunately, lighting was a bit harsh. After I went through several rolls of film, the rare croc submerged and disappeared.

This brief encounter will remain etched in my memory for as long as I live. In May 2005, I found another set of tracks and feces by the river but ten kilometers upstream from the second sighting. I also found the remains of an egret in crocodile feces by the river. It is still not known if a small population does exists here but more investigation is required to determine so. It surely was an exciting discovery for me.



River carp in the crocodile pool in the Phetchaburi River - one of the croc's prey species

One thing has been determined about these two creatures: The old croc in Khao Ang Rue Nai is probably a male (no egg nests have ever been found here), while the mature individual in Kaeng Krachan is more likely a female as many nests have been found up-and-down the river over the years but the eggs are always infertile.
Female crocs lay eggs regardless of fertilization by a male or not. The possibility of bringing the two together to mate is absolutely zero.


Man is the crocodile’s only enemy, and the wild Siamese crocodile is probably the most endangered crocodilian species in the world wiped out by man’s greed. At the end of World War II, crocodile farming came into vogue in the Kingdom, and wild crocs were captured for breeding stock.


Croc pool in the Phetchaburi River in the interior

Thousands upon thousands were caught in the booming trade. Habitat loss and crocodile farming started the countdown to extinction for these ancient creatures. With no laws to protect them, crocs were eradicated from every river and swamp in the country. Up-dating the laws came too slow and many croc farmers with political influence did not want any new laws implemented.

Farming crocodiles is big money business in Thailand. The false gharial and saltwater crocs are farmed along with the Siamese. A quick growing crocodile has been produced by crossbreeding the Siamese with the ‘saltwater’ species producing a ‘hybrid’ found in most of the farms throughout the country. This human ‘quick-growing’ creation is farmed for its meat and hide, and continues to be a brisk business.


Siamese crocodile in the Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm

The recent floods in the Central Plains have allowed hundreds of legally and illegally farmed crocodiles to escape into the environment. Many have been shot, some captured and some are still on the loose. The danger to humans is probably nil. However, farmed crocs are much more aggressive than wild ones and if one is sighted, the authorities should be notified immediately.

The Siamese crocodile was once very common in Southeast Asia including Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos and possibly Burma. Populations throughout the region have seriously declined and exact numbers of wild crocs are not known in any of the range countries.


There is a small population still thriving in Cambodia. However, their habitats are under serious threat from hydroelectric dam construction and could be wiped out very soon.


Conservationists from ‘Flora and Fauna International’ and ‘Wildlife Alliance’ are capturing wild Siamese crocodiles and plan to use these to launch a conservation breeding-program in partnership with the Cambodian Forestry Administration. My close friend and English wildlife photographer Allan Michaud has photographed a Siamese crocodile in southern Cambodia.



A wild Siamese crocodile photographed by my friend Allan in an Ox'bow lake in southern Cmabodia

Some old reports suggest that Siamese crocodiles could still exist in the northeast in several other protected areas: Pang Sida National Park (Sa Kaeo province), Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary (Chaiyaphum province) and Yot Dom Wildlife Sanctuary (Ubon Ratchathani province) but with no actual records, it is doubtful if they still survive in these locations.


My good friend Kitti Kreetiyutanont of the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department (DNP) wrote a paper on Siamese croc sightings in 1993 and, indeed, photographed one at Khao Ang Rue Nai. It is thought to be the same animal I photographed. In 2003, poachers in Yot Dom near the border with Cambodia killed a female crocodile with eggs, and its skull and skin are on display at the park.



A wild Siamese crocodile in Khao Ang Rue Nai photographed by my friend Khun Kitti

The DNP and other organizations should support surveys to see if any other wild crocodiles still exist in Thailand. Restocking a few carefully selected sites with yearling purebred Siamese crocodiles seems to be the only solution.


But that raises questions about the suitability of the farmed crocs available for release. Have captive animals been excessively inbred? Even more critical, have they been crossbred with other species? Only good genetic DNA analysis can unravel this intricate problem of the species’ integrity in the farms.


In 2004, the DNP in conjunction with a local crocodile farm started a pilot project to reintroduce Siamese crocodiles at Pang Sida National Park. Seven juveniles were being kept in a holding pen for future release close to Pang Sida waterfall. However, it is reported that a few escaped and the farm abandoned the project.


Over the last few years, newspaper reports of crocodiles seen in Khao Yai and Thung Salang Luang national parks were probably released without the DNP’s knowledge, and more likely to create media frenzy by someone.


The croc in Khao Yai is aggressive as several tourists found out one day standing by the banks of the river where the croc is living. The reptile rushed up to the people probably looking for food. The chief then roped off the area by the waterway.

Wild Siamese crocodiles are very secretive and avoid people period, and are difficult to see in the wild. The department should capture this croc and remove it being alien to this place above Haew Suwat waterfall.


Serious efforts are required to save Thailand’s remaining wild crocodiles. No matter how many crocodiles are kept in farms, only an intact natural population can truly save these ancient creatures from total extinction.


Thailand should serve as a role model for wildlife conservation in Southeast Asia, and the Thai people and the government should join hands to save and protect the Siamese crocodile for present and future generations. Action needs to be undertaken now to ensure that a creature of 230-million year evolution continues to survive.

Last edited by Bruce Kekule : 29-11-2011 at 08:43 PM.
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Old 05-12-2011, 09:15 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Great article Bruce!
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Old 06-12-2011, 08:03 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Great article Bruce!
Pangsida,

Thanks as always. I appreciate your support and look forward to doing much more. Cheers.
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Old 28-05-2012, 02:54 PM   #4 (permalink)
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maybe we need some more floods!
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Old 28-05-2012, 05:59 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Thank you Bruce. Really enjoyed reading your piece. It's such a shame when Humans don't take the long term consequences of their actions against all manner of flora and fauna. Hopefully some pure breed Siam crocs can be the answer!
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Old 28-05-2012, 09:58 PM   #6 (permalink)
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I ditto that.
What a shame and what a disgrace, if there is no future for a magnificent beast like this today, a beast preceeding even the dinosaurs.

What a sorry world we are leaving to our kids and future generations, if there are no such great animals like that out there any more in their own habitat.

The present biodiversity has taken millions of year to evolve.
Future new "evolvements" will only come in the shape of coach roaches, mozzies and such to became immune to any kind of deterents....

There is a virus on the planet, it is called mankind.... And particularly in the amount of people and the greed.

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Old 20-08-2012, 01:47 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pescator View Post
I ditto that.
What a shame and what a disgrace, if there is no future for a magnificent beast like this today, a beast preceeding even the dinosaurs.

What a sorry world we are leaving to our kids and future generations, if there are no such great animals like that out there any more in their own habitat.

The present biodiversity has taken millions of year to evolve.
Future new "evolvements" will only come in the shape of coach roaches, mozzies and such to became immune to any kind of deterents....

There is a virus on the planet, it is called mankind.... And particularly in the amount of people and the greed.

.
Pescator,

Sorry about the very late reply. In fact, it is even worse now with less and less attention payed to protection and enforcement. Budgets are very low and patrols at a all-time low.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) people in Huai Kha Khaeng and Kaeng Krachan are using many of the rangers for their so-called transect surveys (data gathering) and taking them away from the ranger's areas of responsibilities for long periods of time (10-15 days). I loathe these people as they are using this data to promote donations abroad. The amount of money that comes back to Thailand is minimal.

It is truly a shame as the future is bleaker than thought. I have just come upon this information a short while back. I will be publishing this disgusting behavior soon in the Bangkok Post and just waiting for the right timing (a story about the rangers).

Check out my video 'Chasing a Wild Dream' and see the beauty of Huai Kha Khaeng and its biodiversity. What a shame that the powers to be are only interested in their own selfish interests.

Hope this finds you in the best and regret all the disturbing news.


Bruce

Last edited by Bruce Kekule : 20-08-2012 at 01:53 PM.
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