Indonesia frees crocodile from a tire stuck around its neck for six years

A wild crocodile with a used motorcycle tire stuck around its neck for six years has finally been freed by an Indonesian bird catcher in a tireless effort that wildlife conservation officials hailed as a milestone Wednesday.

The nearly 15-foot-long saltwater female crocodile has become an icon to the people in Palu, the capital city of Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province. The beast had been seen in the city’s river with the tire around its neck becoming increasingly tighter, which threatened eventually to choke it.

Conservation officials had raced to rescue the crocodile since residents spotted it in 2016, which generated sympathy worldwide. In 2020, Australian crocodile wrangler Matthew Wright and American wildlife biologist Forrest Galante tried but failed to free the reptile from its rubbery yoke.

In early January, 35-year-old bird catcher and trader Tili, who recently moved to the city, heard about the famous crocodile from his neighbors and determined to rescue the reptile after he saw her frequently sunbathing in a nearby estuary.

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Crocodile with a tire around its neck

A crocodile with a motorcycle tire stuck around its neck basks on a riverbank in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province in January 2020.

(Mohammad Taufan / Associated Press)

“I have experiences and skills in catching animals, not only birds but farm animals that are released from the cage,” Tili, who goes by a single name, told the Associated Press. “I believe I can rescue the crocodile with my skills.”

He strung ropes of various sizes into a trap tied to a tree near the river and laid chickens, ducks and birds as bait. After three weeks and several misses, the crocodile finally fell into the trap Monday night. With the help of two of his friends, Tili pulled the trapped crocodile ashore and sawed through the tire, which was 1.6 feet in diameter.

A video circulating widely on the internet showed a crowd cheering as Tili and his friends freed the crocodile. Other residents then contacted firefighters and a wildlife conservation agency to help them release the animal back into the wild.

“For all of the efforts Tili has done for protected wildlife and being the kind of animal lover he is, that’s a great milestone,” said Haruna Hamma, who heads Central Sulawesi’s conservation agency.

He said it was unclear how a used motorcycle tire got stuck around the crocodile’s neck. Conservationists have said that it was likely deliberately placed by people in a failed attempt to trap it as a pet or skin it for sale, but crocodiles and other swimming reptiles also often navigate through garbage-strewn waters, Hamma said.

Government data recorded 279 crocodile attacks in Indonesia between 2007 and 2014. Of these, as many as 268 cases of attacks were carried out by saltwater crocodiles, of which 135 were fatal.

Despite the attacks, the saltwater crocodile is protected under Indonesian law.

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