KUCHING: Sarawak, nicknamed ‘Land of the Hornbills’, is well-known not only for its hornbills but also its mighty crocodiles.There are two types of
crocodile species in Sarawak — the harmless false gharial (scientific name Tomistoma schlegelii and locally known as ‘Buaya Jujulong’) and the estuarine saltwater crocodile (scientific name Crocodylus porosus).
The saltwater crocodiles, or ‘Buaya Katak’, as they are locally known, are the largest living crocodilians in the world and widely distributed throughout Southeast Asia, the Philippines, New Guinea and Northern Australia.
In Sarawak, according to the Forest Department of Sarawak, this species is
commonly found in the lowland areas.
With reported lengths of up to 23 feet and noted for their large sizes and fierce temperament, the saltwater crocodiles have a reputation as man-eaters. They are found in coastal brackish saltwater habitats and tidal rivers.
Hunting time for the crocodiles starts when the temperature is warm because they are cold-blooded creatures and depend on sunlight for energy.
Indeed, there are many tales about these hypercarnivorous apex predators, especially in the Iban folklores. One of them is about a legendary crocodile called Bujang Senang.
According to an Iban folklore, there was once a brave and fierce warrior called Simalungun. He was infamous for killing enemies during the mengayau (head hunting) trips. He was so strong and powerful that it was hard to defeat him at that time.
After Simalungun died in a battle 200 years ago, he was transformed into a gigantic crocodile by his relative and powerful shaman to seek revenge on his killers and their descendants.
Based on the information by Owl and Badger Research, an independent research company here, Simalungun was killed at Senang River, a tributary of the Batang Lupar in Sri Aman, after trying to save his wife from her captors. It was also believed that Bujang Senang was named after the Senang River.
Simalungun’s relative, the powerful shaman, had searched in vain for him.
The shaman then learnt about the fate of Simalungun and his wife in a dream. In the dream, Simalungun told the shaman he wanted revenge.
Simalungun returns as a crocodile
According to Owl and Badger Research, the shaman went to the river and pray to all Iban mythical gods to help turn Simalungun into a gigantic
crocodile. He was to be given the name Bujang Senang and would inhabit the Batang Lupar in Sri Aman.
Iban folk, who claim to be related to Simalungun, said he had sworn to terrorise the descendants of the people who killed him and his wife.
Bujang Senang was almost 20-foot long and had a white stripe on its back.
It terrorised the people of Batang Lupar from 1975 until May 1992. Its reign of terror reached its peak in May 1992 when the beast snatched his 14th and last victim.
The last attack was at the Pelaban River in Batang Lupar and Bujang Senang’s prey was Dayang Bayang, a 20-year-old Iban woman.
Dayang and her mother were on their way to a paddy field, not far from the river. When Dayang was about to get out of the water along the riverbank, she was suddenly pulled into the river by the crocodile.
The attack prompted the police and the villagers to hunt down Bujang Senang. Within four hours, the monster was cornered but the hunters failed to kill him with javelins and normal bullets.
10-centimetre nails bring Bujang Senang down
When Simalungun was a fearsome warrior, it was hard to defeat him. This time in the form of a giant crocodile, he was still alive after several gunshots.
A shaman then suggested the hunters used nails as bullets. After 40 shots of 10-centimetre nails, Bujang Senang was finally killed on May 21, 1992.
Despite the end of Bujang Senang and his reign of terror, some people still believe that the beast still lurks in the waters of Batang Lupar and is ready to attack anytime.
The legend of Bujang Senang continues to live today and if you wish to see how huge he was, visit the famous Jong’s Crocodile Farm and Zoo in Siburan. Bujang Senang’s large skull is on display there.
Another version of Bujang Senang’s story
Bujang Senang was indeed one big, fierce crocodile. However, there is an Iban folklore which described him as the opposite.
According to information displayed at Jong’s Crocodile Farm and Zoo, some Ibans believed that Bujang Senang was actually a friendly crocodile whose duty was to patrol the Batang Lupar to protect it against the invasion of other gigantic ‘Bujang’ (crocodiles) such as the crocodiles in the Sadong and Samarahan Rivers.
They even believed Bujang Senang could turn into a human being who lived in his own longhouse, stretching from Bukit Triso to Pulau Burong.
However, Bujang Senang and its followers turned against human beings after the people in Batang Lupar started to disturb the crocodiles’ nests, steal their eggs and sell their hatchlings.
Visit the crocodiles
Meanwhile, for those who want to learn more about the crocodile species, don’t forget to visit Jong’s Crocodile Farm and Zoo at 18/2 Mile Kuching-Serian Highway. It is one of the first and largest captive breeding crocodile farms in Sarawak.
The story of the crocodile farm and zoo began in 1963 when animal lover and conservationist Yong Kian Sen bought six young estuarine crocodiles.
He then became interested in the reptiles and decided to breed them.
From just six crocodiles, there are now thousands of local crocodiles and imported crocodile species on the 25-acre farm.
Apart from saltwater crocodiles, the farm’s other main species is the freshwater Malayan gharial — a rare species of freshwater crocodiles found mainly in swamps and river system.
The farm provides a perfect sanctuary for the reptiles, saving the species from extinction. Visitors to the farm are able to gaze at the snapped jaws, cold menacing eyes, sharp pointed teeth and powerful lashing tails of the crocodiles from behind the safety of metal fences.
However, despite the reputation of estuarine crocodiles being man-eaters, a male crocodile named Bujang Sudin seemed to be harmless and calm.
It was placed in the farm after being caught by villagers of Kampung Gedong at Batang Sadong on Sept 9, 1998.
Recently, the 17-foot long Bujang Sudin was seen waiting patiently on the green grass at a corner of its pond while two farm staff cleaned the pond and trimmed the long grasses beside it.
It seems that Bujang Sudin loves a clean pond. According to one of the staff, Bujang Sudin’s pond is washed once a week.
Crocs attacks in Sarawak
Besides Bujang Senang, there are also other infamous crocodiles in Sarawak, namely Bujang Samarahan, Bujang Tisak, Bujang Belawai, Bujang Subis and Bujang Seblak. Cases of crocodile attacks are still being reported until today, and there are seven crocodile attacks as of January till July this year.
Ricky Ganya, 14, was attacked by a 4.7-metre (17 foot) long, 1.7-metre wide saltwater crocodile while looking for snails near a river at Rumah Dadat, Tanjung Manis.
Kong Gindi, 47, was attacked while washing his boat in Sungai Seduku at 9.45am. The crocodile suddenly appeared on the left side of the boat and pulled him into the river.
A 61-year-old man, Sarkawi Talip was reportedly attacked by a crocodile while tying sago palm branches on the bank of Sungai Undey.
Yanha Mahrat, 29, was attacked by a crocodile while setting his fishing net at Sungai Kampung Melayu Tanjung Pijat, Sri Aman. He was fishing with his younger brother and uncle.
A 78-year-old man, Lingai Rabong, was dragged into the water by a crocodile in Mekam-Sare River in Jaka at 11am while collecting nipah palm shoots.
A 27-year-old angler, Mohamad Monir Edi, was believed to have been killed by a crocodile while fishing near Sungai Selang in Telaga Air at 6.30am.
Fairus Latip, 37, was believed to have been attacked by a crocodile in Sungai Chupin, Lundu while looking for crabs at 11.30pm.
Indet Sanabong, the crocodile hunter
In Sarawak, whenever there are crocodile attacks, villagers will look for shamans, who are believed to have supernatural powers, to help them hunt down the crocodiles which ate their family members.
Indet Sanabong is a well-known crocodile hunter who killed a 3.7-metre long crocodile named Bujang Sebelak. The crocodile was believed to have killed at least three villagers at Sebelak River in Saratok since 2010.
In 2012, a woman identified as Siah Munsong was attacked by Bujang Sebelak. The search for the crocodile deployed both modern and traditional methods.
The shaman summoned Bujang Sebelak to show its presence. The crocodile died after Indet read a chant and slapped it on the head.
Idet was reported to have inherited the knowledge of ‘communicating’ with crocodiles from his father and grandfather.
Among the top 55 rivers with high crocodile populations in the state are Batang Lupar, Batang Saribas, Batang Samarahan and Sungai Santubong.
According to the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC), based on a study from 2012 to 2014, the estimated population of Crocodylus Porosus in Sarawak is 13,507 (non-hatchling).
In 2017, the Sarawak government allowed hunters to apply for licences to hunt crocodiles in the state. The move aimed to control the rapid increase in the number of crocodiles which were endangering human lives.
The crocodiles are under the Forest Department of Sarawak’s list of ‘Protected Animals of Sarawak’. A licence is needed to keep them as pets, hunt, kill, capture, sell import or export them, or possess any recognisable parts of these animals.
A licence under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is needed if one intends to export crocodile meat, skins or hatchlings.
The penalties for hunting or processing any of these animals, dead or alive, and processing any of their parts without a licence is a fine of up to RM10,000 and one year’s jail.