Residents watch as Mayor Cox Elorde of Bunawan township pretends to measure a huge crocodile
A southern Philippine town plans to hold funeral rites for the world's largest saltwater crocodile and then preserve its remains in a museum to keep tourists coming and prevent their community from slipping back into obscurity, the town's mayor said Monday.
The 1-ton crocodile was declared dead Sunday a few hours after flipping over with a bloated stomach in a pond in an eco-tourism park in Bunawan town, which had started to draw tourists, revenue and development because of the immense reptile, Mayor Edwin Cox Elorde said.
"The whole town, in fact the whole province, is mourning," Elorde said from Bunawan in Agusan del Sur province. "My phones kept ringing because people wanted to say how affected they are."
Guinness World Records had proclaimed it the largest saltwater crocodile in captivity last year, measuring the giant at 6.17 meters (20.24 feet). The reptile took the top spot from an Australian crocodile that measured more than 5 meters (17 feet) and weighed nearly a ton, reports The Associated Press.
The crocodile was named Lolong, after a government environmental officer who died from a heart attack after travelling to Bunawan to help capture the beast. The crocodile, estimated to be more than 50 years old, was blamed for a few brutal deaths of villagers before Bunawan folk came to love it.
The giant reptile has come to symbolize the rich bio-diversity of Agusan marsh, where it was captured. The vast complex of swamp forests, shallow lakes, lily-covered ponds and wetlands is home to wild ducks, herons, egrets and threatened species like the Philippine Hawk Eagle.
Wildlife experts were to perform an autopsy as early as Monday to determine the cause of its death, Elorde said.
Bunawan villagers planned to perform a tribal ritual, which involves butchering chicken and pigs as funeral offerings to thank forest spirits for the fame and other blessings the crocodile has brought, Elordie said. A group of Christians would separately offer prayers before the autopsy.