Peacekeeping: June 18, 2004

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For the last year, Australian led peacekeepers have been disarming militias on Guadalcanal island. The local gunmen were using weapons left over from World War II, as well as hundred more recently stolen from police stations, or brought by police who joined one militia or another. So far, over 3,700 weapons, mostly rifles, and over 300,000 rounds of ammunition, have been collected. But there is a downside to this. Decades of rifle ownership had sharply reduced the number of crocodile deaths among the people on the island. Even with all those rifles, several dozen people a year are killed by the crocodiles. But now, without their rifles, the islanders have to call on peacekeepers to come and shoot encroaching crocodiles.

The saltwater crocodiles in the Solomon Islands are the largest and most aggressive reptiles in existence. These animals are often over twenty feet long (some have grown to 30 feet), are very territorial and will attack humans that get too close. Crocodiles are very opportunistic when it comes to attacking something they think is edible. Attacks usually happen in the evening, when the humans arent looking for half submerged crocodiles, but the crocs are on the lookout for a meal. Saltwater crocodiles living in river estuaries are generally bigger and tend to more aggressive towards people. Saltwater crocodiles are sometimes found far inland in fresh water rivers as well. Crocodiles are also quite fast, and over short distances can outrun a human. Over a thousand people a year are killed by saltwater crocodiles, as well as many more dogs, pigs and cattle. 

Before the arrival of rifles, crocodiles, at least the large man eaters, were killed only with great difficulty and risk. Rifles made it much easier to get rid of any large croc that had moved into the neighborhood. Another would soon move into the now vacated territory, and the crocs never seemed to develop any fear of humans. But a rifle or two in each village enabled people to coexist with the big reptiles on somewhat even terms. 

But there are more fearful predators, and the people of Guadalcanal want private ownership of firearms banned, despite the crocodile threat. Five years of warring militias and lawlessness have shown to all that there are worse things to fear than crocodiles.


 


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