Killer croc at Muthurajawela marsh strikes

People are not aware that attacks are usually premeditated, says expert
By Kumudini Hettiarachchi
Above: The wife and two children of the victim whose picture is at right

The routine of humble Sebastian Angelo Uday Kumara, 36, may probably have rung the death knell for him that fateful Friday at Ragama, just a stone’s throw from the busy town and hospital.

For, as Kumara went about his usual work of getting into the ‘Meda’ marsh knee-deep to cut the grass and bundle it up and then walk a little distance to wash off the mud, the predator lurking in the murky waters may very well have eyed him on several days and waited grabbing him as dusk fell on January 27.

When the Sunday Times visited the area, a knot of men and women gathered to express fear over a possible crocodile attack. Yes, said a woman, with the others nodding in agreement, a crocodile has been sighted in the area, with dogs and goats going missing.

“Kimbulek avva thapinawa dekala thiyenawa,” said 16-year-old Roshan Vimukthi who used to play cricket on the pitiya with his friends, explaining that he had seen a crocodile sunning itself with its jaws wide open. It was about 15 feet long.

S. Piyumi, living on the embankment opposite the pool where parts of Kumara’s body had been found, says that when her dogs barked furiously she heard a splash and saw the last bit of a croc’s tail vanish into the depths of the water hedged in by habarala.

Fearful for their children, especially if there is heavy rain and the houses get flooded as they are prone to, the people called for immediate action to prevent crocs from roaming this urban area. A week after Kumara went missing and parts of his body were found at the marsh, his wife Anne Sunethra Dilshani, 10-year-old son Chanaka and eight-year-old daughter Niroshini are struggling to come to grips with the thought that the husband/ father is no more. With the breadwinner gone, the family will be dependent on the kindness of relatives, mainly Kumara’s brothers and sister.

A person points to the spot where the victim entered the marsh. Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

“They have vowed to look after my children,” sobs Anne, as the tiny home in ‘Meegaha-watte’ down Weli Para, Peliyagoda, is coming back to normal. The funeral having been held on February 1, the small shed erected on the road to accommodate the crowds is about to be dismantled and the plastic chairs stacked in corners. Inside their home on a low teapoy is the photo of Kumara with a flame flickering close-by. A cup of tea with milk added has been kept as an offering.

“He didn’t come home that night or early the next morning,” says Anne. The search began the next day, with the men of the watte being mobilised by Kumara’s brother, Sebastian Joseph. Retracing Kumara’s movements, they came to the Ragama marsh and found the three-wheeler as well as the bundles of grass close by.

“His good clothes were in the three-wheeler and a few coins were scattered inside as well,” says Joseph re-living the trauma, pointing out that of the two sickles Kumara usually took with him to cut grass, only one was found in the three-wheeler.

The banian which he wears when cutting the grass was found some distance away, soaking wet but on dry land, close to a murky pool, on the bank of which the three-wheeler ignition key was also found, according to him.

After the watte tharunayo cleared the mucky edges of the pool, the Navy swimmers found his brother’s leg in the water. His shorts, with pahuru gapu (scrape) marks were also found in the water, says Joseph.

The head and the upper torso had been found only last Tuesday, theSunday Times learns.
Kumara had left his wallet along with his driving licence and his identity card at home, murmurs Anne wondering whether he had a premonition of what would befall him.

Three-wheeler driver Suranga Ranjith Silva who has followed the crocodile saga from day one has told officials of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) that he is willing to catch the creature.
We can lure it with a godura (bait) and then trap it with a noose. We will not harm it, he says.
However, according to him, officials from the DWC office at Muthurajawela have told the people in the area to inform them if they spot a crocodile.

“Will the crocodile await their coming,” grumbles a resident, with others agreeing that it is not the solution.

Open verdict as full body not found yet

Ragama Coroner M. Priyankara Lal who held the inquest into Kumara’s death has returned an open verdict, fixing the next hearing for February 24.

The post-mortem examination conducted by Consultant Judicial Medical Officer, Dr. Indira Kitulwatte, had found that the injuries on the recovered parts of the body were consistent with kimbulek sapa kema, explained the Coroner, adding that because the whole body had not been found he gave an open verdict. Time has been given so that the missing leg and lower torso including the stomach may be recovered, it is learnt.

Warning boards necessary

Boards warning of croc attacks should be put up immediately in the area, stressed Anslem de Silva, Vice Chairman, Crocodile Specialist Group IUCN/SSC for South Asia and Iran, advising that people who live or work in croc habitats must not engage in a regimented routine.

Do not repeat the same action, at the same location, at the same time, he urges.
Among the eight killer-crocodiles in the world are both the Saltwater and Mugger crocs which are found in Sri Lanka. The Saltwater crocodile along with the Nile croc (found in Egypt) tops the list, the Sunday Times learns.

Pointing out that many attacks are due to the ignorance of humans, Mr. de Silva said people who go into crocodile habitat are not aware of both the attitude and activities of these creatures.
Croc attacks are usually premeditated, says this expert who has investigated more than 150 such incidents across the country, adding that they “watch and wait.’

‘Mr. Saltwater Croc’ found in the Ragama area may have been watching Kumara, bent or squatting washing himself before pouncing, he says. Once the croc’s teeth get gridlocked on human flesh, it is one of the biggest forces. The croc will then drag its victim under water, drown him, tear the body into pieces and hide them amidst the underwater root systems, for it prefers the putrefied remains.

Commending moves by the DWC under the guidance of Wildlife Minister S.M. Chandrasena to set up massive enclosures of 1-2 acres for both species of crocodiles at Muthurajawela, Mr. de Silva adds that then ‘croc trouble-makers’ from all over the country could be trapped and released there, to reduce the human-crocodile conflict.

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