Once thought extinct, Siamese crocodile is photographed in Siam
NEW YORK -- A team of conservationists led by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have re-discovered the Siamese crocodile in Thailand (formally known as Siam), capturing the animal on film while surveying for tigers.The crocodile, estimated at seven feet, was photographed by a remote camera trap as it lumbered along a riverbank in an isolated forest near the Thai-Myanmar border. Except for a single animal that has lived in a park for years, scientists believed the Siamese crocodile was extinct in Thailand until this discovery.
"This is an extremely exciting find," said Dr. Antony Lynam, a Wildlife Conservation Society biologist who led the survey team. "We knew the area had the potential to support tigers, but had no idea we would find a Siamese crocodile."
A follow-up survey in the area by WCS conservationist Dr. Steve Platt revealed tracks from a smaller crocodile a few miles from where the first one was photographed. "With two crocodiles we have a population, albeit a small one," said Platt. "We're not sure it's a viable population, but it certainly is naturally protected by the lay of the land, and by tropical diseases that keep out a lot of would-be poachers."
Up until the early 1990s, Siamese crocodiles were thought to be extinct in the wild throughout its former range, which included Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia, along with Thailand. But recent wildlife surveys by WCS and other groups have revealed isolated populations living in Laos and Cambodia. However, WCS estimates that the total population numbers no more than a few hundred individuals, making it one of the most endangered crocodilians in the world.
The surveys were part of a training exercise by WCS and the Thailand Royal Forest Department, which included a team of 30 foresters, students and researchers studying wildlife in Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand's largest protected area. The training program was supported by WCS, and the Save the Tiger Fund, a joint project of the U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the ExxonMobile Corporation. The Wildlife Conservation Society is currently seeking additional protection of the park and surrounding landscape, calling it one of the last true wilderness areas of Southeast Asia. The team set 41 remote camera traps that automatically photograph animals or humans that walk in front of them, along trails and rivers in deep jungle in the center of the park beginning in January. When Lynam and his team picked up the traps last month, he found that eight had been stolen and two were lost to elephants, which pummeled them to pieces.
Despite the losses, the survey yielded 348 photographs of 26 species of mammals including tigers, leopards, panthers, elephants, and Asian wild dogs, along with several birds, monitor lizards, and the Siamese crocodile, all from a 75-square-mile area.
"We were lucky to record the crocodile," said Lynam, who has studied tigers and other cryptic fauna in Thailand since 1990. "It was number 37 on a roll of 36 exposure film. The other pictures on the film included otters, macaques and a Buddhist monk on walkabout in the forest."