KOTA KINABALU: Penangite Sai Kerisha Kntayya grew up with a fear of saltwater crocodiles due to their reputation as man-eaters.
Today, the PhD researcher has overcome her childhood fear to study the reptiles along the banks of the Kinabatangan River and to her surprise, found them to be “shy and reserved in the wild”.
She is based at the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) and her work will be featured in the Borneo Jungle Diaries series on Scubazoo TV.
“There is no doubt that crocodiles are ferocious and aggressive in their natural habitat and in my opinion, that solely has to do with their role as apex predators.
“Having said that, in my experience of coming into close contact with them in the wild, I consider them to be very shy, reserved animals,” she said.
Kerisha had never imagined that she would one day work so closely with crocodiles, having feared them.
“But as I gave myself the chance to rethink my understanding about these animals, I see them in a completely different light now.
“I now see the important role they play in the ecosystem and I have come to appreciate their existence,” said the 30-year-old, pointing to the increasing cases of human-crocodile conflict in Borneo.
Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga had recently said that rangers would be deployed to trap crocodiles in areas where the reptiles posed a danger.
Over the course of her research, Kerisha aims to assess the population structure of all major saltwater crocodile populations in the state.
“I will be conducting night spotting surveys in nine major rivers,” she said, adding that tissue samples would be taken to build a genetic model on the diversity of the populations in Sabah.
A decrease in genetic diversity, Kerisha believes, will mean high juvenile mortality, poor immunity and ultimately, higher extinction risk.
“By applying this method to the crocodiles, I will be able to tell whether or not a population is doing well and if not, to come up with management plans that can be used to build a wildlife corridor with the aim of increasing its genetic diversity,” she said.
Kerisha is also helping DGFC in its efforts to map the movements of the various animal populations in the Kinabatangan area, capturing baby crocodiles and tagging adults.