Seventeen critically endangered juvenile Siamese crocodiles were released this week into a protected wetland in Laos, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has announced.
The release is part of a programme to assist the recovery of the local Siamese crocodile population and restoration of associated wetlands, linked by socio-economic incentives that improve local livelihoods.
“The one-to-two-year-old crocodiles, which range between 50-100 cm (20-39 inches) in length, were raised in facilities managed by local communities working with WCS to protect the endangered reptiles and their habitat,” the New York-based conservation charity said in a news statement.
The juvenile crocodiles were released into the Xe Champhone wetland, Than Soum village, Savannakhet province, one of two RAMSAR wetland sites in the country. Laos became a signatory to the RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands in 2010.
The release of the crocodiles is part of the Community-based Crocodile Recovery and Livelihood Improvement Project, designed and implemented by WCS's Lao programme.
News of the impending release has sparked some concerns among members of the public that an increased crocodile population may inadvertently place the lives of local villagers in danger, many of whom make a living collecting plant and aquatic species within the Xe Champone wetlands.
Project coordinator Phouthone Sisavath told Vientiane Times on Friday that there have been no reports about crocodiles killing people in Xe Champhone wetland, only crocodiles getting trapped in the fishing nets of local people.
He said villagers in the area joined the programme by taking the eggs of the crocodiles and hatched the eggs at the village before releasing them to the crocodile zone in the wetland.
Phouthone said villagers knew well about the crocodiles and how to avoid any unwanted contact with them.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment's Water Resource Department Deputy Director General Thoumma Saleumxay said it's important to think of long-term management of the crocodiles. “We may fence it off,” he said.
The programme has three key objectives,” WCS explained in its statement. They include contributing to local livelihoods by improving the coordination of water resource use and zoning of lands used in local agriculture; conserving and restoring crocodile wetland habitat important for local livelihoods, crocodiles, and other species; and replenishing the crocodile population in the wetland complex and surveying and monitoring the current population.”
The programme has worked with nine villages. Each village has a “Village Crocodile Conservation Group” (VCCG) to coordinate the implementation of programme activities in the Xe Champone wetland complex and surrounding areas.
“Local communities have traditional beliefs about Siamese crocodiles, and events on the day included welcoming the crocodiles to the village area and wishing both them and community residents good luck in the future,” WCS said.
It is estimated that there may be fewer than 1,000 Siamese crocodiles remaining in the wild, with a significant proportion of this population located in Laos.