June came and passed in a blink of an eye for myself and the Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC), leaving little time for any apparent rest. A few days after I returned to Belize from the IUCN/SSC-Crocodile Specialist Group’s (CSG) 24th Working meeting in Skukuza,
South Africa, I found myself in front of a college group from the Wildlife Institute presenting about the CRC and crocs in general. Lucky for them, I had some new and exciting information from the World of Crocs given my recent attendance at the CSG meeting. For example, did you know that crocodiles can change color? Well, they do… kinda. My colleague Agata Staniewicz from England discovered the chromatic changes in crocs during her research on Tomistoma in SE Asia. She observed that crocodiles > 80cm had the ability to change coloration on their abdomen- during the day their belly was dark, during the night white. What is the advantage of this chromatic change? Well, this helps the small crocs to camouflage amongst the murky water and debris during the day when they are more likely to be sighted by predators. During the night, the chromatic change is not necessarily important given its night (there are no lights in the jungle!). Fascinating work, and we look forward to seeing how Agata’s work progresses!
Following the presentation with the Wildlife Institute, I found myself presenting at The Belize Zoo. Their summer program for international students (CELA) included a basic Croc Talk, but this time I got to emphasize about the veterinary science of crocodiles given the majority of these students were pre-vet. Of course I was excited as I got to talk about my love of parasites! And began explaining to the students that croc parasites may not necessarily be “parasites” actually. Through my observations and studies, croc parasites (particularly trematodes and nematodes) actually may be beneficial, and I actually want to state that the relationship between croc and parasites is mutualistic! Yup- those millions of years of co-evolution has created a highly dependent and strong mutualistic relationship between these two predators (“parasites” feed off of organisms just as crocodiles feed on other organisms, so yes, parasites can be considered as a predator. Some ecologists even state that “parasites” are ABOVE the more traditional predators given parasites feed on crocs, wolves, etc.).
The presentation for the CELA program occurred twice for 2 different groups. The second group had quite a treat as their afternoon “hands-on” experience included a croc handling training for The Belize Zoo keepers as we took out Brutus, a 11.5ft American Crocodile. Friend and colleague Shawn Heflick from Crocodile U led the capture providing his 25+ years of crocodile experience. He also showed the keepers the Zen Method of crocodile capture. The CRC has been using this method since Shawn taught us and it is BY FAR the best capture method I have ever learned. Much more calm, and much more safe for both croc and human. Sharon Matola, the founder of the Belize Zoo, was very excited that her keepers learned this method. And what a treat for myself and colleagues as we got to see the newest addition to the zoo, Chiquibul, or Chiqui for short. An orphaned cub that was saved by rangers from the Friends for Conservation and Development from drowning in Chiquibul Forest. And if you are wondering, she will not be re-released into the wild. Why you may ask? It’s because felids imprint on humans easily, and given all the human interaction Chiqui is getting given she was ill when found, she will associate people with food and comfort… most likely becoming a problematic jaguar. Also, all the hunting skills she would learn from her mother to be able to survive in the wild has now been lost. Thus, the best chance that she has at a life is living at The Belize Zoo, and I guarantee she will definitely enjoy her new home at the zoo!
Interestingly enough, after seeing Chiqui we headed to her home, Chiquibul Forest to perform a Morelet’s crocodile population survey. This survey was quite the adventure, and I will write a blog about it in the weeks to come, as it deserves it’s own forum.
And now back in Placencia… the croc adventures continue. Now we are searching for “Nessie” our own Loch Ness monster. But it’s not a big croc… but a leucistic crocodile! Our affiliate Miriam Boucher caught a glimpse and quick pic of this white beast and we have been on the hunt since to verify that a white crocodile has survived the dangers of the wild. Leucistic animals are not generally found in the wild given they are easily sighted by predators. But Nessie seems to be unique and going against catholic paradigm of Darwinism. In addition, we have found a unique population of crocs in the area of both American and Morelet’s crocodiles. Interestingly enough, these individuals may not belong to either species (technically speaking). Looks like we found ourselves a thriving population of hybrids!
Needless to say June was an exciting month in my world of crocs, and I have a hunch the excitement will continue in July…