In September, Sariah, a resident of Bangka Island, Indonesia, experienced a harrowing encounter with a 3m-long saltwater crocodile while fetching water from a pit near her home. This incident is not isolated. Over the past decade, Indonesia has witnessed approximately 1,000 crocodile attacks, resulting in the deaths of more than 450 individuals. Bangka Island and its neighboring Belitung island account for nearly 90 of these attacks.
Bangka Island, a significant tin-mining region, has seen extensive mining activities that have transformed its landscape. Approximately 60% of the island’s land has been converted into tin mines, many of which are illegal. This mining activity, combined with the effects of climate change, has forced saltwater crocodiles out of their natural habitats and into close proximity with human settlements, leading to increased conflicts.
The situation is further complicated by cultural beliefs. After a crocodile attack, local residents often prefer to kill the animal, considering its relocation a bad omen. Endi Riadi, who manages Alobi, the island’s only wildlife rescue and conservation center, faces challenges in convincing locals to spare the crocodiles. The center, which relies on donations, currently houses 34 rescued crocodiles in a space-constrained environment.
The root of the problem lies in illegal mining and its impact on the crocodiles’ habitats. As miners venture further into the sea, more crocodiles are displaced. The Indonesian government’s solution to combat illegal mining—by legalizing it and requiring miners to restore habitats—has been met with skepticism. Many doubt the miners’ commitment to environmental restoration, especially given the weak law enforcement on the island.
For victims like Sariah, the trauma of the attack lingers. Despite surviving the ordeal, she is haunted by the memories and fears returning to the water pits. The situation underscores the urgent need for a balanced approach to mining, habitat conservation, and community education to prevent further conflicts between humans and crocodiles.