Philippine Crocodile Facts

Philippine Crocodile Profile

Saltwater crocodiles are the top crocodilians in Southeast Asia, with a widespread distribution and a fearsome reputation for being gargantuan man-eaters.

In the Philippines, they hold the dominant spot as apex predators, but they live alongside a much humbler, lesser-known and incredibly rare crocodile, known locally as ‘bukarot’ or ‘buwaya’.

Bukarot is the smaller king of the remote Philippine freshwater systems and the only other crocodile species in the country. Unlike the cosmopolitan saltie, they’re a true Filipino, endemic to the country, and unfortunately, extremely rare.  

Sadly, the Philippine crocodile, also known as the Mindoro crocodile is the most threatened crocodile species in the world, and classified as critically endangered by the IUCN.

Philippine Crocodile Facts

Philippine Crocodile Facts Overview

Habitat: Small lakes, rivers, creeks, ponds and marshes
Location: Northern Philippines
Lifespan: Possibly up to 80 years
Size: Up to 3m (10ft) long
Weight: Up to 90kg
Colour: Light brown, darkening as they age
Diet: Shrimps, dragonflies, small fish, snails, large fish
Predators: Only Humans
Top Speed: 29km/h (18mph) in the water
No. of Species: 1
Conservation Status: Critically Endangered (IUCN)

The Philippine crocodile is a relatively small freshwaster crocodile that is typically below 2.7m (8ft 10) in size, and weighs around 90kg (200 lb), although some large individuals might reach grow over 3m (11 ft) and 200kg (440 lb).

They were finally recognized as an endemic species at the end of the ‘80s, but it’s proven to be too little too late, and they are now on the verge of extinction, pushed to the northern parts of the country, occupying a fraction of their historical range.

Hunting for meat and hide was a significant cause of this, but more modern threats are from destructive fishing practices, and perhaps a lack of adaptation to climate change, though this remains to be seen. 

As of now, there are captive breeding and reintroduction programs in play, and with some luck, this ecological necessity will see a return to healthier numbers. 

Interesting Philippine Crocodile Facts

1. They were once widespread

This relatively small crocodile once had an enormous range that spanned the islands of the Philippines from one end to the other. 

At the time it was described, it was part of a larger group of New Guinea freshwater crocodiles, C. novaeguineae, but more contemporary assessments have put it as its own species, entirely endemic to the Philippines. 1

Philippine Crocodile

2. They cull the sick 

Philippine crocodiles put a lot of pressure on their ecosystems in two ways: first, they prefer to eat dying fish, which rapidly removes deleterious mutations from those fish populations. 

Their preferences here create a selective pressure and keep the fish populations healthy as a result.

But after eating those wonky individuals, the crocodile converts them into soluble nutrients that are crapped out into the waterways, fertilising aquatic plants, and invigorating the ecosystem from the bottom up. 

3. The temperature determines their sex

Temperature-dependent sex determination is not just a term for when it’s too cold to get out of bed, it’s also the phenomenon of the sex of a newly hatched offspring being determined by the temperature at which the egg was incubated. 

This is an unusual thing, most common in reptiles, and universal in crocodilians. In the Philippine Crocodile, females are produced at 30-31°C and males tend to be produced in greater numbers at temperatures above 33°C. 

While this is still a rudimentary understanding, on account of this crocodile being so rare, it might be a very important key to its survival. 2

4. This might become a weakness

As species are becoming extinct at an alarming rate, climate change is being associated with what is now known to be the sixth mass extinction event in global history. 

Crocodilians, who have been on Earth since the end of the Triassic, are finally showing signs of struggle, and the Philippine crocodile is a good example of this. 

The temperature-dependent sex deamination is all well and good when the temperature fluctuations are within healthy normal ranges, but in an increasingly hotter Earth, species like this may find that they’re producing too many males and not enough females to survive. 

As of yet, the “adaptive potential”, or the ability of this species to respond to these threats, remains unknown. 3

Philippine Crocodile

5. Humans are entirely to blame for their demise

Aside from human-caused climate change, this was a species in decline for a long time. Local human populations have shared the habitat with the crocodile and hunted it for food, but there are more destructive practices at play, too. 

Fishing with dynamite and electricity has wiped out entire populations of this species, and while surveys show that there is local support for their conservation, this species of crocodile is not going to make it on its own. 4

6. There aren’t many left

While these crocodiles were once widespread across the Philippines, they are now confined to just six small populations in the Northernmost part of the country, the largest of which is no bigger than 100 individuals. 

These populations are separated from one another, meaning they aren’t able to spread their genes, and they’re listed as Critically Depleted, relative to their historical range. 5

7. People are trying

Reintroduction programs are underway, and juvenile breeding programs are safely hatching young crocs to release into their old habitats. 

As with any program like this, there needs to be a strong focus on local education and changing perspectives, so there is also coordination and management of both the captive breeding side and the protection of the wild animals after reintroduction. 

With any luck, these programs can see populations increase in the North part of the species’ old range, and perhaps even make it back to some of the regions where it has become extinct. 

8. They are protected by law

Unfortunately in modern Filipino culture, crocodiles are typically perceived negatively.

They are regarded as a threat to livestock, and safety of children. The local term ‘buwaya’ is used as an insult for corrupt officials.

The Republic Act 9147, known as the ‘Wildlife Act’ was introduced in 2001, which makes it punishable by law to kill a crocodile.

The maximum penalty is ₱100,000 ($2,500) fine currently.

Philippine Crocodile Fact-File Summary

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Crocodilia
Family: Crocodylidae
Genus: Crocodylus
Species: Crocodylus Mindorensis

Fact Sources & References

  1. Merlijn van Weerd (2010), “Philippine Crocodile Crocodylus mindorensis”, Research Gate.
  2. Crocodylus mindorensis Philippine crocodile”, Animal Diversity Web.
  3. Emma C. Lockley(2021), “Effects of global warming on species with temperature‐dependent sex determination: Bridging the gap between empirical research and management”, NIH.
  4. Philippine Crocodile”, IUCN Red List.
  5. (2021), “IUCN’s New “Green Status of Species” Measures Impact of Conservation Action”, IUCN.