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The American Crocodile, Crocodylus acutus, in Jamaica

 

 

Published Date: February, 2006                                                                                      

Author: Dion Kelly

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Text Box: © R. Nelson

 The American Crocodile, Crocodylus acutus, is one of 23 extant crocodilian species and one of thirteen in the Family Crocodylidae. It is the largest reptile and only crocodilian present in Jamaica. The majority of crocodile populations in Jamaica inhabit the wetlands (mangrove swamps, marshes) and rivers along the southern coast of the island; areas such as the Black River Great Morass and Milk River. There are however a few small isolated populations on the north coast; in parishes such as Hanover and Trelawny.

C. acutus is listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In Jamaica it is also protected through listing in the First Schedule of the trade in Endangered Species and Schedule Three of the Wildlife Protection Act. The aforementioned pieces of legislation serve to prohibit the unauthorized trading of the species as well as, preventing the unwanted injuring or killing of a species that is regarded  ‘vulnerable’  by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). 

In spite of its threatened status, the American crocodile is often injured or killed. The general public’s belief in Jamaica is that crocodiles are dangerous animals which are a continuous threat (often based solely on its carnivorous appearance) and should be killed. In reality, the American Crocodile is one of the shyest of the crocodilian species. They will often shun confrontations unless molested or attacked. Nesting adult female crocodiles are however more aggressive during nesting periods (March to June each year) as they try to protect their nest and young. 

The crocodile is important in its ecosystem both as a scavenger and a top predator. It helps to maintain healthy biological diversity through the removal of slow or diseased individuals from prey (e.g. fish) populations. Crocodile wading ponds also provide a source of water for many species during times of drought or little rainfall. Its role is not only limited to aiding other fauna but it also contributes to the economies of several countries. In Jamaica it provides the basis for the south coast ecotourism and in other countries e.g. Cuba (with less threatened populations) through the sale of its meat and hide.

The threat to the survival of the American Crocodile in Jamaica is not confined to incidental or intentional killing but rather due in large part to a continuous decline in habitat. The loss of habitat is the result of land reclamations for commercial, industrial and residential purposes. The ‘development’ of wetlands destroys wading ponds, nesting sites (e.g. beaches) and nurseries for young crocodiles. It forces crocodiles to seek out new areas to inhabit (areas such as storm drains, fish and sewage ponds). While crocodiles are highly adaptive animals, this movement into new areas often increases the unwanted instances of human/crocodile confrontations.

Major construction or industrial activity in wetlands impacts negatively on the ecosystem and in particular the natural drainage patterns. The resulting flooding of other territories is often another devastating result as it will affect people, flora and fauna. Wetlands not only provide a habitat for the threatened American crocodile but also provide sanctuaries for many other endemic and even migratory species. The endangered West Indian Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna arborea) is a prime example of this. Nesting beaches in which crocodiles lay their eggs often tend to be suitable for turtles to nest.

The survival of the American Crocodile will depend on the success of curbing the level of human activity and development in wetlands, coupled with preventing the killing of the animal because of ‘fear’ or even for consumption! The preservation of its habitat will significantly allow the population in Jamaica to recover to that of one which can be further utilized in ecotourism.

 

Contact Information 

Dion Kelly, Life Sciences Department, University of the West Indies, Mona Campus

Tel: (876) 754-7540 ext 2117, (876) 387-0321

Fax: (876) 977-1075, (876) 512-9191

Email: dkelly@nepa.gov.jm, dion.kelly@uwimona.edu.jm

 

 

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Institute of Jamaica

 

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