This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia
If there as ever a time to rethink what the term "crocodile tears" means, it's now. A crocodile farm in Sorong, a coastal city in West Papua, was recently the scene of a full-fledge crocodile massacre as men, many of them transmigrants from the Indonesian island of Java, slaughtered nearly 300 crocs in a retaliation for one of them killing a friend.
The story goes that a man named Sugito accidentally wandered into a nearby crocodile farm while searching for some grass to feed his cattle. The crocs caught wind of his presence and they, being wild animals penned into an overcrowded farm, killed him.
The retaliation came swift and fierce. Apparently local residents had long grown tired of living so close to a farm filled with massive, man-eating crocodiles and they decided that enough was enough. The ensuing slaughter made headlines across the globe as villagers posed alongside a pile of croc corpses. It's an insane sight to see how many people actually turned up to gawk at the slaughter, and soon images and videos like the one below were in everyone's feeds.
Now this kind of senseless, indiscriminate killing obviously pissed a lot of people off. The police said they would investigate the case, but the reality is, even if they find someone to charge, the maximum penalty is only nine months in prison.
The outpouring of anger over the whole incident makes sense. I mean, could you really blame the crocodiles for what happened? Indonesia has four species of saltwater crocs, including some of the biggest in the world, and killing and eating things is sort of what they do. Where's the need for revenge?
The obvious answer is that this wasn't about the crocs at all. Local news reports say that the farm's neighbours had obviously known the crocs were there. They had been complaining about it for years. So, when one of the beasts eventually killed someone, the anger was more at the farm's owner than the crocs themselves. But, sadly, the crocs paid the price.
Then there's the bigger issue at play here: that these kinds of animal attacks are on the rise. This time it was a farm full of crocodiles, but only a few weeks ago, it was a seven-meter-long python that ate a woman in Southeast Sulawesi, slithering into her corn farm and attacking her while she worked. Locals found the snake and killed it too, slicing open it's huge belly to find the woman's in-tact corpse inside.
A lot of these attacks have their roots in one of the most-pressing issues facing Indonesia today—the ongoing deforestation of its natural forests. People are living closer to wild animals—many of them deadly as fuck—than ever before. And when humans and animals live cheek-by-jowl, eventually those jowls are going to bite.
Between 2000 and 2018, there have been more than 250 instances of crocodiles attacking human beings. It's not that they're hunting us down, although we are incredibly easy prey. Hellen Kurniati, an ecologist at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, explained that a lot of these deaths would've been prevented if people knew more about crocodiles. The crocs often become more aggressive during the dry season, why they're getting ready to mate. They feel a need to defend their territory and stockpile some food for the event.
“They’ll prepare their food first," Hellen told VICE. "Crocodile mating usually occurs every dry season, but it’s difficult to predict it now."
It's also difficult to predict where they'll show up. A number of crocodiles recently showed up in the rivers of Jakarta, swimming through a capital city of more than 10 million people. And, although the story has already left the news cycle, those crocs are still out there, somewhere.
The thing is, these attacks are likely going to continue. So next time, instead of blaming the animals themselves—and killing them for revenge—let's blame ourselves, because we're the ones making this happen.