Animal rights activists urged Philippine authorities on Saturday to return a captured giant crocodile back to the wild, but the mayor of the town where it was caught refused, saying it poses a threat to residents.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the 20-foot (6.1-meter) saltwater crocodile nicknamed Lolong should be returned to its natural habitat because if it remains in captivity it is likely to develop abnormal behavior and endanger its caretakers and visitors to a proposed park.
Mayor Edwin Cox Elorde of southern Agusan del Sur province's Bunawan township said about 1,300 residents who rely on fishing in the area could be attacked by the crocodile, believed to be the largest in captivity in the world.
Wildlife officer Ron Sumilier, who led the team that trapped the animal last week, said it may have attacked a fisherman who disappeared from the area about two months ago.
Ashley Fruno, senior campaigner for PETA Asia-Pacific, said natural conditions can never be replicated in zoos or animal shelters, resulting in physical and mental stress for captive animals.
"It's clear that the promoters of this park are thinking only of their bank balance, without so much as an afterthought for the animal's well-being," she said.
Elorde said he was hurt by suggestions the crocodile was captured for the financial benefit of local officials. He has announced that Lolong will be the main attraction at an eco park to attract tourists to the remote town.
"We did not capture Lolong for any commercial reasons," he told The Associated Press. "We captured him to save the residents in the area and to save Lolong" because villagers were planning to poison it.
Groups like PETA "are so quick in making demands without even visiting our area," he said.
Elorde said the one-ton crocodile hasn't eaten since being captured, possibly because of stress. Crocodiles can live for several months without eating.
It is being kept in a 8,610-square foot (800-square meter) pen with 4-foot (1.2-meter) -high concrete walls topped by welded wire.