A new report has found that crocodile attacks on people in Solomon Islands has increased significantly over the past decade and will continue to rise if nothing is done.
Released last month 'Human-crocodile conflict in Solomon Islands' is a report on a nationwide survey conducted by the WorldFish Program in 234 villages across Solomon Islands between April and August last year.
The report documented a total of 225 crocodile attacks on people. One of its authors, Dutch scientist Jan van der Ploeg, said the real number of attacks was likely to be higher because many villages and indeed whole islands were not visited.
In the 20-year period from 1998 to 2017 a total of 194 attacks were reported.
One third of these attacks resulted in a person's death: 83 people have been killed in total, 31 were children.
Some of the accounts captured in the report are chilling.
"In 2008, Don Ricky was playing in the sea with some kids from his village, New Land in Marovo Lagoon, Western Province. At dusk the other kids headed home, but the six-year-old boy went back into the sea to fetch his ball. A crocodile suddenly pulled him under. The villagers never found his body."
Jan van der Ploeg, links the increase in attacks to a burgeoning crocodile population since the government banned the export of crocodile skins in 1993 as part of a global push to prevent the reptiles from becoming extinct.
"And when they stopped hunting the population was very small but it responded and it recovered very rapidly," Mr van der Ploeg said.
It is estimated that there are now between 1400 and 2300 saltwater crocodiles in the country.
"So there are more and more crocodiles and larger crocodiles than 20, 25 years ago, and that is leading to many more attacks, and is one of the main findings of our report the number of attacks is also increasing and that is really a worry," he said.
But it's a complicated problem to address in the Solomon Islands.
Killing crocodiles is forbidden in many of the local cultures with kastom stories or folklore depicting them as, taboo, sacred animals or ancestral spirits like in this one abbreviated from the report.
"A long time ago one of our ancestors had a son. He and his wife loved their son very much. But one day they noticed their son had a tail ... one day a close relative from another village paid them a visit. He shouted at the boy and chased him out, so the boy went to Wairaha River and it became his home ever since. This was the beginning of our tribe."
According to the report at least five people a year are killed by crocodiles on average in Solomon Islands over the past decade. In the first few months of 2018 alone there were 13 attacks, three of them fatal.
Already this year the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force have received several call outs for problem crocodiles. On Malaita the team captured and killed three of the animals after an attack on a 12 year-old girl on New Year's Day. The child survived but sustained serious injuries to her legs.
Mr van der Ploeg said the report recommends including more safety awareness for communities living near known crocodile habitats, more training and help for police to hunt down killer crocs and legalising the sale of crocodile products in Solomon Islands.
"So making sure that the people in the villages receive more information on how to deal with the crocodile problem. And if people have a serious problem with crocodiles and they cannot solve it then the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force can come in to assist."
But having said that, Mr van der Ploeg said he thought it important to remember that Solomon Islanders have been living with crocodiles for tens-of-thousands-of-years and have developed their own precautionary measures like always fishing in large groups or making sure you have bright flashlights when going near the water at night.
As to the future implementation of the report's recommendations Mr van der Ploeg said staff from the Solomons' ministry of fisheries and ministry of environment were drafting a new crocodile management strategy which they plan to submit to whatever new government emerges after the National General Election on 3 April.
Interesting facts from the report
The saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) is the world's largest living reptile, with males recorded in excess of 6m and over 1000kg. The largest saltwater crocodile recorded in Solomon Islands was 5.9m, on Isabel.
This large and opportunistic apex predator hunts a wide variety of animals, including fish, mud crabs, turtles, flying foxes, dogs and pigs. Prey are typically ambushed in or at the edge of the water. Small animals are swallowed whole, while large ones are dragged into deep water, drowned and then torn to pieces. Large adult saltwater crocodiles will also consider humans as prey.
Humans and saltwater crocodiles have coexisted in Solomon Islands for 30,000 years, and crocodiles play a central role in the cultural history of the country. This is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that a crocodile features prominently on the Solomon Islands coat of arms, alongside another man-eating predator in the islands, the shark.