The body of the last wild Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) in Vietnam was found floating in Ea Lam Lake on September 29. The 3.2-meter-long, 100-kilogram female had been strangled by two steel wires, possibly by hunters. She was estimated to be nearly 100 years old.
Once present throughout Southeast Asia, critically endangered Siamese crocodiles have disappeared from many of their former habitats in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and other countries because of overhunting and habitat loss. Only an estimated 100 of the freshwater animals remain in the wild, mostly in Cambodia, although many thousands exist in captivity on crocodile farms, where they are raised for their skin.
Tran Van Bang, a researcher with the Center for Biodiversity and Development headquartered in Ho Chi Minh City, examined the body, which had been dead for at least three days before it was found. He told Tuoi Tre that she was not carrying any eggs. "If eggs were found inside its abdomen, this would mean that she had been inseminated and that at least one male Siamese crocodile individual is still living in the lake," he said.
The residents who live around Ea Lam Lake come from the Ê Đê ethnic minority, which used to believe that the crocodiles carried the souls of their departed ancestors and therefore refused to harm them. Hunters from outside the community have been blamed for earlier crocodile deaths in the area. Tran Van Bang tells me there are unconfirmed reports of another adult, with a damaged tail, in the lake but no evidence of this animal has been collected to date.
Thailand and some other countries have plans to eventually re-release some captive-raised Siamese crocodiles back into the wild. The success of these releases will depend on the establishment of protected habitats and a pure gene pool, because many captive Siamese crocs have been hybridized with saltwater crocodiles (C. porosus) to increase their growth rates.
The death of this Siamese croc marks the second major conservation loss in Vietnam in the past three years. In 2010 poachers killed the last Javan rhino in Vietnam (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus), sending that subspecies into extinction.
[Updated 10/13/12 with photo of the killed crocodile and the possibility of another crocodile in the lake.]
Photos: Top photo by Justin Jensen via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license. Siamese crocodile necropsy by Vu Ngoc Long, used with permission