The ‘Crocodile Dundees’ of Samarahan
By:Sarah Hafizah Chandra

THE legend of Bujang Senang – a giant white back crocodile – still sends shivers and instils fear among the local community living by the river to this present day.

The notorious maneater which roamed Batang Lupar in Sri Aman claimed many lives since 1941.

It is believed that between 1982 and 1992, there were 13 attacks recorded by the 19 feet three inches saltwater crocodile.

The numerous attacks prompted the local authorities and villagers to hunt down Bujang Senang.

When several attempts to kill the giant crocodile with javelins and small firearms failed, a shaman suggested using nails as bullets.

Bujang Senang’s reign ended on May 21 1992 when he was shot 40 times with 10cm nails.

With the population of crocodiles believed to be more than 2,000 in Batang Samarahan, it comes as no surprise when the local community formed a team to address the problem.

Formation of Samarahan crocodile hunters

The Samarahan Crocodile Hunters (SCH) was established in January 2020 following the increasing number of crocodile attacks on villagers who depend on the river for their livelihood.

Datuk Idris Buang. Photos: Nazmi Suhaimi

According to Muara Tuang assemblyman and SCH advisor Datuk Idris Buang, the number of crocodile attacks affected the villagers.

They were afraid to go out to fish and cast their net which affected their livelihood.

Describing the formation of SCH as impromptu, he said the team consisted of eight permanent members, and it came under the purview of the Muara Tuang service centre.

Whenever there are sightings of crocodiles, the team would assist the local community by hunting and catching the crocodiles.

The team is on an on-call basis, and they would conduct seven to eight operations in a year with each operation lasting about a week.

Idris said the local community plays an important role as informants contribute to the success of operations.

“At the end of 2019, there were about three to four cases of crocodile attacks. The local community told me that there are many vicious crocodiles lurking in the rivers.

“I went to see Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg to ask if I can proceed with the formation of SCH because we wanted to help the local community and he gave me his blessing.

“Based on the information given by the local community, there are many crocodiles in Batang Samarahan area. Depending on your luck, you may or may not encounter these creatures,” he explained.

Idris said a villager who was involved in the initial stage of forming SCH, the late Azyan Azhar, also became a victim.

The SCH team.

Recalling how he had advised the late Azyan to not go out and cast his net, Idris said the Azyan perhaps thought the area was already free of crocodiles.

He said the previous lack of bountiful catch had affected the Azyan’s source of income. 

“According to Azyan’s father who was with him, the crocodile jumped and ‘flew’ across the boat to snatch him. Only one of his limbs was found,” he said.

Operations and procedures

All operations conducted by the SCH are under the purview of the custodian of wildlife and national parks, Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC).

The team works together with SFC and other local authorities such as the police and Fire and Rescue Department (BOMBA).

Whenever there is a report of crocodile attack or successful catching of a crocodile, SFC has to be informed.

The team sticks to the guidelines and standard operating procedures (SOPs) set by SFC such as they would have to let go of smaller crocodiles and only capture the large ones.

Since its inception, the team has caught over 20 crocodiles ranging from 16 to 17 feet.

Wan Mazlan Wan Madian

SCH member Wan Mazlan Wan Madian who is a licensed hunter and shooter said they would use the bait and fishing line method to catch the reptiles.

Dubbed as ‘Steve Irwin of Sarawak’, his experience and expertise are admired by members.

There are usually five to six members involved in an operation and they would use fresh chicken as a bait.

The team has two medium-sized boats and two small boats whereby they would use the small boats when setting up a bait.

“I used to work with SFC for many years. Before I became part of the SFC team that handled crocodiles, I handled snakes and people used to call me ‘snake man’ until an incident when I was bitten by a 16kg king cobra which I kept as a pet left me in a coma for a week.

“We usually coordinate the operations by ourselves, and we delegate the tasks – two members would be in charge of looking after the boat and engine while a member who is a licensed shooter would be on standby and the other two members would pull the fishing line,” he explained.

Besides coordinating operations on their own, the team members train themselves by sharing knowledge and experience.

Wan Mazlan Wan Madian

As one of the ‘otai’ or old timer, Wan Mazlan said the biggest crocodile he ever caught was a 19 feet 8 inch reptile in Nyalau, Bintulu when he was with SFC.

He said the giant crocodile had eaten a human and it was one of the most challenging operations he had been involved in.

“We had to fight for about 30 minutes to catch the giant crocodile because it was very stubborn. At one point it dragged us on land and that was when I shot him,” he said.

On what happens to the crocodiles that have been caught, Wan Mazlan said they would bury them.

He explained that crocodiles in the wild are very filthy and their skin is full of imperfections.

As such, the crocodiles are not commercialised and there are no demands from the local community for crocodile meat.

Behaviours of crocodiles

Tengku Zainal Tengku Zaidan

SCH member Tengku Zainal Tengku Zaidan has been volunteering in SFC operations in Batang Samarahan for many years.

He said he learned a lot about crocodiles from Wan Mazlan and said the team works well together.

He said each member has important roles to play and he learns a lot from the other member.

“I gained my experiences and knowledge from volunteering to assist in SFC operations. Whenever the team goes on operations, we hardly face any challenges because we have a very good relationship.

“Each member has his own experience and expertise, so we learn from one another on where we can improve ourselves,” he said.

Tengku Zainal pointed out that crocodiles at different areas have different behaviours.

For example, an operation to hunt a crocodile in saltwater river of Bako is often more difficult compared to the operation in Batang Samarahan area.

“The crocodiles in Batang Samarahan area usually have a hard time seeing us so once we catch them, only then they will start fighting back.

“In comparison to clear saltwater river, the crocodile can see us – it is more alert of the surrounding, so it is more likely to strike before we do anything,” he said.

He further explained that there are seasons when the crocodiles would be more aggressive than usual, such as when they are nesting or mating.

He said the crocodiles would be very protective of their nests or hatchlings, thus they would attack those whom they view as a threat.

“Interestingly, these crocodiles sometimes give warning signs such as they would appear near the boat or push the boat – this is considered a ‘polite’ warning.

“If the ‘polite’ warnings are ignored, they are very likely to attack,” he said.

Tengku Zainal Tengku Zaidan

Tengku Zainal said male crocodiles are usually more aggressive than female crocodiles as they would fight back when they are caught on the fishing line.

Recalling his experience battling a male crocodile in Batang Samarahan, he said the creature swam against the current pulling his 30-horsepower engine boat for 15 minutes.

“We did not fight back and waited for it to be tired. In this kind of situation, we have to use our rationale,” he said.

On what the members do to pass the time during operations, he said they would usually enjoy each other’s company.

“We cannot be too noisy because it will scare away the crocodiles.

“At the same time, we cannot be too afraid or brave – so we are always cautious and ensure that our safety is not compromised,” he said.

Taboos surrounding crocodiles

There are many taboos and traditions surrounding crocodiles.

For instance, if one were to consume crocodile meat, crocodiles would know and therefore seek revenge.

Chai Kian Jiew

SCH member Chai Kian Jiew who  consumes crocodile meat debunked the myth, saying that it is not true.

During the recent Kuching Food Festival, he operated a stall selling herbal crocodile soup, BBQ crocodile meat and stir-fry crocodile meat.

“I have a licence to hunt and shoot as well as to commercialise crocodiles. For crocodiles that are not maneaters, they would be commercialised.

“The taboo on how crocodiles would attack those who have consumed their meat is not true. It is like saying that chickens, turkeys, and ducks would seek revenge on those who consume poultry,” he said,

He said the members do not possess any mystique or extraordinary knowledge when it comes to crocodiles.

Similarly, he has seen a fair share of those claiming to be able to summon crocodiles as a fraud.

There was an elderly local man who claimed he has the ability to summon crocodiles but on the day itself, he was unsuccessful due to too much noise from the crowd waiting to witness his special gift.

Chai stated that there is a need to change the mindset of the local community when it comes to crocodiles.

The SCH team on operations with local authorities.

He said there are quite a number of people who have the licence to hunt crocodiles, but they do not and are afraid to go on operations.

For crocodile-based tourism to be a success in Sarawak, he said it must be accepted by the local community.

“There are many countries like Australia and Thailand which are successful in its crocodile-based tourism. This is probably due to the demand for crocodile meat and the use of its skin as leather goods.

“Crocodile meat can be processed into food items like sausages and burgers; there are demands for them in countries like Thailand, China and Taiwan which can be a lucrative source of income,” he said.

Future undertakings

Datuk Idris Buang

Moving forward, Idris expressed the hope to see SCH – his brainchild – to continue serving the local community.

SCH is the first of its kind in Sarawak and the team is very active.

While there are no plans to expand the team, Idris said they will continue to serve the local community.

“We will continue serving the local community because it provides safety assurance and a peace of mind to those who depend on the river for their livelihood.

“When our fishermen can reap more and bountiful catch, they are able to generate income and they are happy to do their job,” he said.

Idris said the team continues to receive encouraging response and support from the local community.

“This is very rewarding because we are doing it for our local community. The village headmen and community leaders always give their full support to the team,” he added.

The SCH team on operations with local authorities.

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