San Mariano, Isabela: Philippine Crocodile Municipal Rearing Station

Philippine Freshwater Crocodile
Philippine crocodile hatchlings at the municipal rearing station in San Mariano, Isabela

Amidst the foothills of Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park, one can cozy up with the world’s rarest crocodile – the Philippine freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) or burakot in the Ilocano tongue. This is a relatively small crocodilian species, with most adults measuring five feet in length. However, they are known to reach maximum lengths of 10 feet. Close to extinction, less than 100 adults remain in the wild, making the animal even more endangered than the Philippine eagle. The last remaining populations can only be found in remote rivers and wetlands of Isabela and Maguindanao. This endemic species is reclusive and nonaggressive compared to the more common and larger Indo-Pacific estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), which most people are familiar with.

A municipal rearing station near the Pinacanauan River was established in Brgy. Minanga in San Mariano, Isabela, where a significant population was rediscovered in 1999. The conservation program is funded by the Filipino-Dutch NGO, Mabuwaya Foundation, and supported by luxury fashion brand Lacoste. The label’s founder Michel Lacoste even visited the park in 2012.

Philippine Freshwater Crocodile
An adult Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis)
Philippine Crocodile Municipal Rearing Station
Hatchlings are raised in separate holding tanks at the Philippine crocodile rearing station

Crocodile hatchlings – which may be handled by visitors with the supervision of the caretakers – are gathered by park rangers in the sanctuaries within the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park, and taken to the rearing station in San Mariano, where they are raised in holding tanks. Larger juveniles are then transferred to enclosures, before they are released back into the wild. While no fixed amount is asked, I highly encourage visitors to donate generously to this conservation program when visiting the municipal rearing station. For more information on how you can help save the Philippine freshwater crocodile, contact the Mabuwaya Foundation.

Pinacanauan River
The Philippine crocodile rearing station can be reached by crossing the Pinacanauan River by boat or barge.

HOW TO GET THERE: The junction to San Mariano lies between the cities of Cauayan and Ilagan in the town of Naguilian. Alight at the junction, and hail a passing jeepney (from Ilagan or Cauayan) for the final 20-km stretch to San Mariano, via Benito Soliven. 

Visitors must arrange visits to the municipal rearing station or the crocodile sanctuaries within the park at the municipal hall located a few kilometers before the town center. The rearing station itself is located a few minutes walk across the Pinacanauan River in Brgy. Minanga. As a new bridge is still being constructed, vehicles and peoples can traverse the river on wooden barges. 

For inquiries, contact community affairs officer Corazon M. Pua at +63 9175060558, or Marites Gatan-Balbas, field project manager/deputy director of Mabuwaya Foundation at +63 9209742379.

WHERE TO STAY: One can spend the night in Cauayan or Ilagan, and day trip to San Mariano. However, if you need to spend the night in town, the municipal hall rents out its A/C guest room, housed in an adjacent court house, to travelers at PHP 500.

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