MALACCA: More than 50 crocodiles at the Crocodile and Recreation Park in Ayer Keroh here have died from eating non-digestible materials thrown by visitors.
This has cost the park an estimated RM150,000 since it was opened in 1987.
Park supervisor Amran Ahmad said the cold-blooded reptiles were tough, but not when it came to swallowing non-digestible stuff, especially plastic bags.
"Since I started working here in 1989, more than 50 crocodiles of various species have died.
"In most cases, post-mortems revealed that the reptiles had died of severe lung inflammation, which was caused by consumption of plastic bags," he told the New Straits Times at the park yesterday.
Amran said in several cases, plastic bags were found in the stomach of dead crocodiles.
"We have come across a lot of rubbish being thrown by visitors... food containers, water bottles, plastic bags, clothing, slippers and even diapers. The more visitors we have, the more rubbish we would collect in the pools at the end of the day.
"From our experience, visitors would usually throw things into the pool to make the crocodiles move as they lie motionless."
He said visitors continued to throw litter at the reptiles despite the presence of signboards warning them not to do so.
"There is not much we can do to prevent this as we cannot issue fines or take any action against the errant visitors. What we can do is only to advise them.
"To lessen the problem, we will now explain to the visitors that crocodiles are not always lively.
"And there are also staff given the task to help urge the crocodiles to move so that visitors would not throw things at them."
The park's zoology officer, Siti Nabila Abdul Karim, said crocodiles normally did not die instantly after consuming the rubbish, as health complications could take up to several years and cause a slow and painful death.
"Non-digestible products like plastic bags will cause digestion problems to the reptiles. When this happens, the crocodiles would start to lose their appetite and weight.
"We can only try to help them to eat more, including giving supplements. We cannot conduct surgery on crocodiles as there is no anaesthetic for these reptiles," she said.
The park receives about 200,000 visitors every year, with up to 2,500 visitors per day during school and public holidays.
Visitor Badrul Hisyam Ishak, 33, who went to the park with his wife and two sons, said he was shocked when told that crocodiles could die from swallowing plastic bags.
"I never knew that. When we were visiting the pools, I saw litter like water bottles and food containers in them." Reporting by Hariz Mohd