West Papua does not only have feral animals and plants; it also has coconut crabs. Let’s see how this animal lives and what local people do to save it.
The land of Cendrawasih is blessed with lots of exotic flowers and animals. If you have lived long enough on the Papua island, there is a huge chance you will find coconut crabs. The scientific name for this kind of crab is Birgus latro. Other people also call it palm thief or robber crab. It is a hermit crab species and is considered the largest terrestrial anthropoid on earth.
If you go to Raja Ampat, West Papua, you can find many of it. But, due to several reasons, it is on the brink of extinction. One of them is due to its limited distribution. In Indonesia, this species can now only be found in the country’s eastern side, starting from Makassar to Papua. Thus, the government claimed this species to be protected.
Coconut Crab’s Life
To understand more about this species, you will learn about its lifecycle, diet, and habitat.
The robber crab mates quickly and frequently on dry land from May to September. Try early June and late August if you want to see a massive mating. Male crabs deposit plenty of spermatophores on female crabs’ abdomens during mating.
The females lay their eggs not long after mating. They glue their eggs underneath their abdomen and carry the fertilized eggs on their abdomen for a few months. When the eggs are hatch, the females move to the seashore and release the larvae into the Raja Ampat sea, West Papua.
Also read: Everything About Wildlife in Raja Ampat
Laying eggs by the sea is deadly as the crabs can’t swim. Plus, their heavy bodies make it difficult for them to get back to the land whenever they get swept away or fall into the water.
After the larvae are released, the empty eggs remain on the female’s body. The egg cases are a good diet for the female. Thus they eat it within a few days. Meanwhile, the larvae float in the sea along with planktons for three to four weeks. The larvae which survive through the harsh climate and predators reach the glaucothoe stage of development. Then they sink to the bottom, wear gastropod shells, and move to the shoreline. If a young coconut crab cannot find a shell, they use broken coconut pieces.
Robber crabs eat fleshy fruits, nuts, drupes, seeds, and the pith of fallen trees. As omnivores, they also consume dead animals, tortoise hatchlings, and rats. Crabs, including its kind, are also in their diets.
This animal is not called a palm thief for no reason. When it sees a coconut on the vast ground of West Papua, the thief cuts it to a husk nut. Then it will climb a 10-meter tree to drop the nut it carries. After the nut cracks, it consumes the flesh. They can also, using its strong claw, cut holes into coconut. But it needs several days before they can access its content.
This animal is considered one of the most terrestrial-adapted hermits. They use rock crevices and burrows as their homes and decorate their homes with fine, strong fibers of the coconut husk for bedding. While resting in their homes, they close the entrance with one of its claws.
When the sun is blazing, they hide to reduce water loss. But, when the animal population is quite dense, you can see some of them taking advantage of the food search. They also come out from their hiding places when it rains to allow them to breathe easily.
Coconut Crab Captivity in West Papua
This palm thief has also become one of the economic commodities in the region. Thus, local people capture them for a living. Due to the capturing activity carried out by local people, the Natural Resources Conservation Agency of West Papua (BBKSDA PB) and Conservation International (CI), and the Marine Conservation Organization worked together to conserve the hermit.
One of the activities they did was socializing people of Fam, Saukabu, Saupapir villages regarding the regulation on protected feral plants and animals. It is the first step to protecting the palm thief. It is expected to change people’s understanding of the crab. But, they still need to introduce another commodity to replace the economic value of this hermit. Thus, coconut crab captivity became the solution.
The captivity was conducted in community group based as not all people have empty land. With this solution, the community focuses on production and product diversification, such as tourist attractions. It also means West Papua has another tourism spot to market.
Also read: Sustainable Ecotourism
With this diversification, the visitors will have a chance to release Coconut Crab by the adoption system. Later on, the attraction will be integrated with another tourism spot, like Geosite Park Pyanemo.
But, this program needs hermit parents to be bred in captivity. So, some existing coconut crabs should be taken from nature. To regulate this, the crabs should be proposed to be game animals to be hunted in a specified number. It, indeed, needs monitoring from relevant parties to make it run well according to the plan.