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A Sarawak crocodile hunter from the 1950s shares his know-how

If you search ‘crocodile hunter’ on Google, the first thing that pops up in the result is ‘Steve Irwin’.

Irwin, who was famously known as the Crocodile Hunter, was an Australian television personality, zookeeper and environmentalist.

He died untimely in 2006 after being pierced in the chest by a stingray barb while filming in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Do you know that Sarawak were known to have crocodile hunters more than 50 years ago?

One of them is John Leong, who wrote to Sarawak Gazette on February 28, 1955 about the sport of crocodile hunting in Sarawak.

According to Leong, crocodile hunting is a sport practiced in various parts of Sarawak but “as there is some risk attached to it, it should only be indulged in by people with steady nerves.

A crocodile hunter shares his method

Apparently, there were two methods to hunt a crocodile. “The first with hooks, the second with torch and spear. Both methods are widely used in Sarawak but little has been put down in writing about either,” he wrote.

“As for the method of using hooks; take 18 to 20 yards of good rattan sega, and some stout string for attaching the hooks, but it is better if you can have these on about yards of steel wire attached to the rattan”

For its bait, Leong used any type of flesh and he hung the hook eight to 10 inches above the surface of the water.

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He explained that crocodiles use their nose to seek their prey and they can smell the flesh of any warm-blooded animal from a great distance.

What happens when the bait has been taken by the crocodile? The reptile would try to pull away the rattan in whichever direction its going.

Leong stated, “For this reason it is important that the rattan should not be fixed to any tree or log, but should be perfectly free. It is in the end of the rattan floating on the water that gives away the position of the crocodile and enables him to be traced.

“The rattan is now seized firmly, and at this point it is desirable to pronounce certain words as a precaution against attack by the crocodile.The rattan is the hauled vigorously; it is important to have ready some two yards of stout cord to tie the jaws of the crocodile as soon as it is emerges. Its fore-legs are then similarly secured, and afterwards its hind legs. It can then be towed to the bank where it is detached with an axe. It should be skinned immediately and the body disposed of. The skin should be rubbed over with salt and then put into a box. Store in a cool and dry place till ready for sale. Bear in mind when skinning that when you come to sell it, the dealer will measure the skin across the body as well as in length.”

Hunting for crocodile using torch and spear

According to Leong, the second method to hunt for crocodile is using torch and spear.

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He stated, “In this case it is essential to use a big boat, indeed it is most unsafe to use small one, as the creature lashes out violently with its tail. Hunting in this fashion takes place, needless to say, at night.”

Firstly, let the boat drift silently down the river until the glint of the crocodile’s eyes can be seen.

Then, flash the torch at the crocodile like a lightning while paddling the boat closer.

When you are ready, throw the spear aiming as far as possible for the neck. Otherwise, the spear might go through the body and pierce the belly skin.

Do not forget to tie a good length of cord on the spear with a float at the other end of the cord.

“When struck by the spear the crocodile will plunge to the bottom and scurry away, but the float will reveal his whereabouts. When the cord has been secured, it is hauled in. If when the crocodile emerges it proves to be a big one, another spear will be needed to hold it,” Leong stated.

Understandingly, the reptile will fight furiously. However, when it begins to tire, slip a cord through its mouth and tie its jaws up, then its forefeet and its hind feet.

Finally, tow it to the bank and cut it. According to Leong, with reasonable luck it is possible to get five to six crocodiles in a night using this method.

Leong’s experience as a crocodile hunter

Leong explained that hunting with torch and spear is really a dangerous hobby since the crocodile can swiftly attack.

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He added, “This sport calls for a steady eye, quick thinking and a cool head. If you can imagine that the crocodile is merely a large fish, all will be well, but I honestly do not recommend anybody to follow this method unless they possess really reliable charms.”

Leong, who was a teacher, also shared his love for crocodile hunting. He hunted either in his spare time or during the school holidays.

Before he was posted to Ulu Baram as a teacher, he used to hear of people being taken by crocodiles.

The crocodile hunter claimed that since he moved there such a thing was unknown. The children were finally able to swim freely across the river without any fear.

Crocodile Hunting in Sarawak present day

In October 2016, the status of crocodile management in Sarawak had been brought down from Appendix I to Appendix II in the list of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Under Appendix I, Sarawak was not allowed to sell the meat and skin overseas.

Now, Sarawak Forest Department approves applications to hunt crocodiles with hope that it would minimise conflicts between humans and reptiles. Those who are issued licenses will be briefed further on the department’s standard operating procedures (SOP) to prevent misuse and overharvesting.

Previously, Sarawak Wildlife Protection Act was enacted in 1990 to protect the animals from extinction.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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