Shed some tears for sea-surfing Colombo crocs


Two weeks ago, the Sunday Times reported about a crocodile that took refuge in a home garden at Rawatawatte. Crocs are making news once again. This time, it is crocodiles from the sea.

The buzz about the crocs began last week with somebody seeing a croc in the sea off Mount Lavinia. Since then the croc made waves of news, making appearances here and there. It was last seen alive in the sea off Kollupitiya on Wednesday, riding the waves of the rough sea. But the following day, its lifeless body was seen being carried away by the waves.

But that was not the end of the story. Reminding us of a Hollywood thriller, where the end scene shows the problem is still not over when everyone thinks it is, another croc emerged in the Dehiwala sea on Thursday. It was later seen moving towards the Port City in the seas off Galle Face.

But unlike the man-eating monster crocodiles in Hollywood movies, the crocs in the Colombo Sea have not harmed anyone. But fishermen and visitors to the beach see them as a threat due to natural fear. Some have tried to catch them, throwing fishing nets and hooks or other methods that cause injury to the animal.

Dr. Tharaka Prasad of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) who conducted the post mortem examination of the crocodile says the poor animal had a tear wound on its underside. The croc’s stomach was empty; it had not eaten in many days. Usually sea crocodiles use ocean currents to move around, but the sea was very rough during this week.

The presence of the agitated people who tried to catch the croc, did not allow the animal to come to shore for basking and rest. Dr. Prasad believes that a combination of these reasons has weakened the Colombo croc and caused his early death.

This croc was a 12-foot long young male and could be about 8 years old. It is known that crocs inhabit the Bolgoda Lake, Werasganga, the Lunawa Lagoon and even in the Wellawatte Canal secretly.Seeing crocs in the sea is not a new phenomenon.

The Sunday Times has reported at least two such croc sightings. On March 2012, we reported about a croc seen in the same stretch of the sea off Colombo.

The headline read: ‘Crocodile in Dehiwala sea does not spoil fun of two-mile swim’. A January 9, 2011 story in the Sunday Times carried the headline: ‘Offshore Croc has Matara abuzz’.

Again it was we who first reported in 2007 about a crocodile living in the Wellawatte Canal. No untoward incident has happened so far, indicating that man and crocodile can co-exist, provided one does not stray into the territory of the other.

Dr. Anslem de Silva, Chairman of IUCN Crocodile Specialist Group for South Asia and Iran, says some crocs, especially the males, may migrate to other localities via the sea. For instance, they may move from the Wellawatta canal to the Panadura/Moratuwa area and vice versa.

A few centuries ago, they might have made this journey over land without being noticed by humans. But today, their land path is blocked by concrete jungles. Besides, the people react with panic when they spot a crocodile, the croc expert says.

“Seeing crocs in the seas off Colombo and its suburbs is not unusual. Several old records speak of saltwater crocodiles.

In fact, they could travel a few thousand km in the sea,” says Silva adding that he himself had come across the ‘salties’ – as they are fondly called – in the seas off the western, eastern and the Southern coasts in recent times. Of these, one was captured, two escaped and two were killed.

Roaming off Dehiwala on 21.09.2015 (c) Adrian Meedeniya

Roaming off Dehiwala on 21.09.2015 (c) Adrian Meedeniya

Dr. de Silva recalled that the Maldivian authorities seeking his assistance for solving a crocodile problem in their islands about a year ago.

The Maldives has no native crocodiles and the nearest area with a crocodile population is southern India and Sri Lanka, more than 400 km away.

It is believed that the crocodiles use oceanic currents to ride large distances without much effort. It is said that there are records that salties navigate 2,000 kms in the open sea.

If you see a crocodile in the sea, there is nothing to panic. Just keep your distance and let the animal as it is. Remember that animals too are subject to agitation, exhaustion and can sometimes also forced to act in self defence.

If you see an agitated crocodile either in the sea or on land, call the Department of Wildlife Conservation without trying to act, advises Dr. de Silva.
(M.R.) Published on SundayTimes on 27.09.2015 

One Response to “Shed some tears for sea-surfing Colombo crocs”

  1. Sam Ranasinghe Says:

    Dear Malaka,

    Thanks for the post. Is it possible to educate the public to send a SMS to the Wildlife Authorities as soon as these crocodiles are spotted in places where they are vulnerable. Then then the authorities can take action ASAP to capture and re-locate the animals.

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