Military transfers crocodile from children’s park

The military has transferred the crocodile at the children’s park in Malé to an unspecified location.

According to local media, the crocodile was transferred on Sunday night ahead of work on adjusting its cage.

Ahmed “Gahaa” Saeed, then-deputy principal of Majeedhiyya School, caught the young crocodile in 1998.

It has since been kept in a cage at the children’s park and grew to about 10 feet in captivity.

The caging of the crocodile has attracted a number of protests, including one led by the Billabong International school in 2010, which drew attention to the small cage and bad conditions the animal has been kept in.

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Negotiations to re-home slow loris continue

Negotiations for the re-homing of the slow loris are continuing after another offer for relocating the illegally imported animal appeared to have stalled.

After new inquiries from the UK regarding the possible re-homing of the endangered animal, the Ministry of Environment has revealed that communication with prospective new carers has broken down.

The mission to re-home the slow loris has proven difficult since the illegally trafficked animal – who was discovered in the Maldives during a drugs raid by police in January – has no formal paperwork or certified country of origin.

The Ministry of Environment subsequently considered euthanasia based on a number of factors which made re-homing the animal both difficult and costly.

The media coverage of this decision and an online petition drew further attention to the matter, resulting in various international partners expressing an interest in rehoming the endangered primate.

The Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN) had originally offered a home at the Slow Loris Rehabilitation Centre in Jakarta, though recent correspondence obtained by Minivan News has revealed that they are unable to repatriate the creature as it is not native to Indonesia.

More recently, an offer was received from the UK-based Monkey World Ape and Rescue Centre, who suggested that the Jim Cronin Memorial Fund for Primate Welfare & Conservation may be able to cover the costs if a location could be secured.

Correspondence between JAAN and the Maldives government had previously revealed that the country was unprepared to meet any of the costs for sending the animal abroad.

“We do not have loris at Monkey World, nor do we have empty facilities that could taken long-term,” wrote an official from Monkey World. “However we would be very happy to assist and I have already contacted colleagues in the zoo world to find out if there is a good home for this individual.”

“I am also happy to organise the paperwork on this end (if UK CITES authorities will give us an import licence) and we could possibly even do the quarantine period (4 months) here at the park if there is a permanent home in another location thereafter.”

Despite these initial positive emails exchanged, the Ministry of Environment has confirmed with Minivan News today that no further correspondence has since been received from Monkey World.

Meanwhile, the Maldives National Defence Force has denied reports that new parties have shown an interest in relocating the corocodile – or ‘Kinboo’ – currently under its care in Malé.

A protest took place last week outside the enclosure – in the children’s park – where the Kinboo has been kept since its discovery on the coast of a local island in 1998.

“Some groups have shown interest in the crocodile since the day it was caught, but it quickly faded away,” said MNDF Deputy Spokesman Captain Ali Ihusaan. “We have not received any new interest recently.”

The crocodile has attracted a number of protests, including one led by the Billabong International school in 2010, which drew attention to the small cage and bad conditions the animal has been kept in.

Speaking with Minivan News today, an official from the Ministry of Environment said that promises to rehome the Kinboo had repeatedly run into problems.

“In the past years there have been many unsuccessful attempts to send it abroad,” the source stated.

“One of the reason being that it needs to be air lifted by a specialised air craft which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Another reason again is that it is of unknown origin.”

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Second crocodile discovery raises enclosure issue

A second crocodile found in as many months within Maldivian waters is currently being held by police as they look for a “safe area” to keep the animals, with one expert suggesting that investment in the creatures’ protection could have mutual benefits for local people and the tourism industry.

Maldives-based marine biologist Verena Wiesbauer Ali has suggested that although crocodiles may remain a rare presence in the Maldives’ tropical atolls, investment in providing them with a safe enclosure in the country could pay off as a popular attraction for wildlife lovers.

The claims were made as police confirmed that a six-foot crocodile was found yesterday near the waters of Naifaru in Lhaviyani Atoll by a fishing boat crew, following on from the apprehension of a four-foot croc by authorities last month in Thaa Atoll.

The Lhaviyani Atoll crocodile is thought to be the third such creature of its kind to have been captured in Maldivian waters and the second to be discovered this year alone, with one marine biologist calling the appearance of the animals a “surprising” and rare occurrence within the country.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said the crocodile was found in local waters at about 2pm yesterday afternoon and was now being kept in the local police station near where it was found in Lhaviyani Atoll, while the police service consulted the environment ministry on the best course of action.

“We will hold the crocodile until we can find a safe area to keep it,” he said. “We will look at ways to keep the animal without having to kill it, which would remain one possible option.”

Shiyam said that it was currently in talks with environment experts about whether there was a growing chance of crocodiles likely to be found in the country’s waters.

“At this moment we are not sure yet [how common they are expected to be],” he added.

Although not professing to be a crocodile expert, Verena Wiesbauer Ali, a marine biologist and environmental consultant for local company Water Solutions, told Minivan News that although species such as saltwater crocodiles were common in India, it was “quite surprising” to find them in the atolls of the Maldives.

Wiesbauer claimed that she believed it would probably be these saltwater crocodiles that have been most recently discovered in the Maldives and although they are rare, the public should be careful.

“It is good that the police have taken the animals. They are of course dangerous, particularly after having potentially travelled such a long way. They could be hungry,” she said. “The best thing for people who come across a crocodile in the Maldives is to get out of the water and call the police.”

According to Wiesbauer, the major issue for police holding the animals will now be to find places to keep the crocodiles while also letting them”live in dignity” – options that she claimed are currently limited in the Maldives.

The last previous reptilian stranger to be found in the Maldives, a nine foot-long crocodile called ‘Kimboo’, is currently kept in the Kudakudhinge Bageecha (children’s park) in Male’, after it was caught by Maldives National Defence Force cadets in 1998.

In July 2010, students at Billabong High School in Male’ launched a campaign to ‘Save Kimboo’, due to the small size of its enclosure and poor treatment.

Kimboo occasionally makes it into local media and even has his own Facebook page calling for his release, but so far nothing has eventuated.

Wiesbauer said that although Kimboo’s cage was kept clean, she believed it was far too small for an animal of its size to now be kept.

The marine biologist said by comparison that all three creatures may therefore benefit from potential government or private investment into a special enclosure within the country that could be of interest as an attraction for local people and tourists.

Wiesbauer claimed that she is already considering putting together proposals for the government to consider the possible development of an enclosure in an area such as Villingili in North Male’ Atoll where huge areas of government land currently remain unused.

“It may be a bit utopian, but we have to think about these creatures welfare now they are here,” she added. “The creatures should not be killed, either they should be protected in an enclosure or they should be exported to zoos in countries like Sri Lanka or India. But who would pay for this service?”

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Mission to save a Kimboo

As 30 odd students from Billabong High EPSS International school traipsed to Kudakudhinge Bageecha (children’s park) on the southeast side of Male, one might have thought they were on an outing for enjoyment.

But these students were on a mission. To save the crocodile, or ‘kimboo’ as they say in Dhivehi.

Grade eight student Shiman Shiyam had come to see the kimboo before. It is one of the major attractions at the park along with some birds in cages, and tortoises.

“It was sad to see it before also like that, but we never got a chance to do anything about it,” she says.

Shiman is busy painting a banner on the grounds of the park along with five other students, calling for the freedom of the kimboo.

Here and there pockets of students milling about preparing banners. From time to time, some go to take a peek at the kimboo.

The kimboo was caught off an island in Maldives in 1998. When it was first displayed in the little enclosure at the park, you could sometimes barely see it as it was so small the water at the enclosure could completely cover it.

But after 12 years in captivity it has grown to nine feet in length, and the water in the enclosure no longer even covers it. It can stretch its body, but the enclosure is too small for it now.

Billabong High School’s Biology Teacher, Kate Wilson, was out running with a friend when a detour in the park led them to discovering the crocodile.

Billabong students are on a mission to save the Kimboo, a nine foot crocodile
Billabong students are on a mission to save the Kimboo, a nine foot crocodile

“We were horrified by the size of the enclosure,” she says.

Calls were placed to Environmental protection Agency (EPA). The EPA told them that they had already tried to rescue the crocodile in conjunction with a Sri lankan outfit, to try and send it to a better place, “but for some reason it didn’t work out.”

Kimboo occasionally makes it into local media and even has his own Facebook page calling for his release, but so far nothing has eventuated.

Kate shared the story with her students, who were very keen to help and do what they could to begin the process of finding the crocodile a better home.

“We got in touch with an international agency in Australia, which rescues crocodiles that are injured or in bad conditions,” she says.  The agency is currently holding discussions to see if it is feasible to rescue the crocodile.

To encourage the agency to take action, today the students were making banners and producing a video with messages calling for support.

Shiman is confident kimboo will be rescued.

Aishath Suha, also in grade eight, says she volunteered for the operation ‘because I don’t want to see kimboo suffer.”

She points out the lack of space and says “it will be better off somewhere else in a better habitat.”

Like Shiman, Suha had also come to see the crocodile before and been concerned.

“This is all part of marking  World Environment Day, albeit belatedly,” says Billabong’s Principal, David Key.

Billabong High could not mark the day, as it fell on a holiday.

But now, as part of the activities, groups of students are planting 30 trees along the beach front area, and the beach near the tsunami monument.

“This is to create awareness among students about what they can do, and how they can help in contributing positively to preserving the environment,” says David.

Reasons for rescuing kimboo

Banners completed, the students gathered on the steps in the park. Each group of students gave the message they wanted to say for the video.

A group of young boys likened the kimboo’s captivity to “holding a person in a cage, through no fault of his own.”

Most students mentioned the small enclosure as the prime reason for wanting it to be rescued.

“It would be better off in a better home with others of its kind,” was another reason.

Sadly, after 12 years in captivity, the kimboo can most likely never be set free. But for the grade 7, 8, 9 and 10 students of Billabong, the fact it might get a better home is reason enough to try.

Meanwhile the kimboo lies in its enclosure, its powerful jaws wide open, oblivious to the fact that its future might soon change dramatically for the better.

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