A remote southern Philippine town has gone into mourning over the death of the world's largest saltwater crocodile in captivity, even though it was blamed for the deaths of several villagers. Bunawan town plans to preserve the remains of the 1-ton crocodile, named Lolong, in a museum to keep tourists coming and stop the community from slipping back into obscurity, the mayor said today. Estimated at more than 50 years old, the crocodile was named after a government environmental officer who died from a heart attack after traveling to Bunawan in Agusan del Sur province to help capture the beast.
The crocodile's capture in September 2011 sparked celebrations in the town. It was caught with steel cable traps during a hunt prompted by the death of a child in 2009 and the later disappearance of a fisherman. Despite those deaths, Bunawan villagers grew to love the giant reptile because it came to symbolize the rich biodiversity of the marsh where it was captured. Various religious groups offered prayers today and spiritual leaders also planned to perform a tribal funeral rite, which involves butchering chickens and pigs to thank forest spirits for the fame and other blessings the crocodile has brought. Wildlife experts will perform an autopsy to determine Lolong's cause of death; the beast was found floating on its back in a pond yesterday, its stomach bloated. (Read more crocodile stories.)