Back in November 2011 I visited Bunawan in the Philippines to provide independent verification for the length of Lolong, a reportedly "6.4 m" saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) which had been captured in early September. I was asked to do this by Natural History New Zealand and National Geographic for several reasons, one of which is because I'm quite skeptical about reports of giant crocodiles. It was clear from the photographs and footage that Lolong was a large crocodile, but actually putting a tape measure against it was going to be the ultimate test.
In front of the assembled news media, several hundred visitors, local officials, members of the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center (PWRCC), Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) and others, I was filmed measuring Lolong accurately using two different methods. The result of that filming will appear in a National Geographic documentary to be aired in the fairly near future, although I don't know the precise date unfortunately. Animal Planet has already aired a documentary about Lolong which they filmed after ours, but the Nat Geo show will show the actual official measurement.
In the meantime, Guinness World Records have accepted my measurement and the evidence provided by National Geographic, and declared Lolong the largest crocodile in captivity at 6.17 m (20.24 ft, or approximately 20 ft 3 in). Here's a photograph of the certificate to prove it:
Of course, Lolong won't actually appear in the Guinness World Records book until the next edition is published in 2013. I'm not sure when they will revise the listing on their website either, but it will presumably happen sometime between now and the publication of the next edition of the Book.
You'll see a few other measurements out there if you Google around, but 6.17 m is the correct one. The original rough measurement of "6.4 m" is occasionally seen, as is the equivalent in feet of "21.1 ft". National Geographic also reported this figure from the original September news story, but our official measurement in November supercedes it. You'll also see "21.1 ft" associated with the November measurement, but that came about because someone in the enclosure mistakenly converted the measurement we took in metres into feet before we double-checked it. A handful of the media, instead of waiting for the official measurement, ran with what they overheard in the enclosure and ended up getting it very wrong. Some sources have then converted this back into metres, further compounding the confusion.
Isn't it amazing how, even in a cut-and-dried case like this, a huge amount of confusion and misinformation can so easily arise? It's no wonder there are so many giant crocodile myths out there.
So congratulations Lolong for amazing the skeptic in me. I didn't expect to ever see a crocodile greater than 20 feet long (just over 6 meters) in my lifetime, not an experience I will forget easily. There are some who believe that Lolong should be released back into the wild, but that's simply not possible anymore. He was blamed for the death of at least two people, and whether this is true or not local people felt that he represented a serious threat to their safety. Had he not been removed, it's likely he'd be dead by now. It's difficult to appreciate just how real an issue this is unless you live with crocodiles on your doorstep.
The Mayor is committed to investing money earned from displaying Lolong into the protection of Agusan Marsh, and Lolong is now inspiring people in the Philippines to perhaps respect crocodiles a little bit more. Given the status of the Critically Endangered Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) they need all the help they can get. But one final piece of good news for this post, and truthfully what all this has been leading up towards. As a result of the recent attention brought to crocodiles by Lolong and by recent high-profile meetings (IUCN SSC Crocodile Specialist Group) and release events (for C. mindorensis) attended by people like Michel Lacoste, the Philippine government has recently introduced a Senate Resolution to increase protection of both species of crocodiles in the Philippines. This is excellent progress.