The American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) is one of two crocodile species that inhabits Belize. This species primarily inhabits coastal cayes, estuaries, and brackish water mangrove wetlands, and is recovering from near extirpation in Belize as a result of over-harvesting in the early 1900s. It is currently listed as “Vulnerable” under the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) throughout its range, however, in Belize the species is considered Critically Endangered based on data collected during the 1995-1997 countrywide survey in which only 250 American crocodiles were observed (Platt, S. G., and J. Thorbjarnarson. 2000. Status and conservation of the American Crocodile, Crocodylus acutus, in Belize. Biological Conservation 90: 13–20). Results from the original surveys reported Belize to be among the lowest encounter rates reported for the region (0.28 crocodiles/km surveyed).
As of January 2019, the population status of the American crocodile in Belize is data deficient, and it is unknown whether populations have recovered since the original surveys or if increased shoreline development and coastal pollution has affected recovery. Additionally, there is no conservation or management plan for the species. In collaboration with the Belize Forest Department, the CRC has initiated a countrywide survey of the American crocodile in May 2019 to assess the current population in order to establish a much needed conservation management program in concomitance to assisting wildlife managers, conservationists, and other key stakeholders in the decision-making process that can mitigate human-crocodile conflicts and protect critical habitat. This is of particular importance as coastline development is increasing in Belize, greatly impacting and diminishing American crocodile habitat (particularly nesting habitat), and potentially driving increased introgression between the American crocodile and Morelet’s crocodile. By protecting crocodile habitat, we anticipate the conservation efforts will have a positive umbrella effect, protecting and conserving species that are not well known or studied, in addition to furthering protection of natural resources.
Our project encompasses 5 parts: habitat monitoring, nocturnal eyeshine survey, capture and mark survey, nest survey and community outreach. Upon completion of the project, the CRC will work with government and key stakeholders to develop the 1st
Conservation and Management Action Plan for the American Crocodile in Belize to ensure its survival for future generations.
As the Wet/Rainy season intensifies in Belize, the CRC has been conducting surveys sporadically throughout the country. Most recently we have conducted Nocturnal eyeshine surveys (NES) in Northern & Southern Lagoon Watershed and on the Belize River mouth in Belize District. We conducted four nights of NES in Northern & Southern Lagoon Watershed and observed a total of 20 crocodiles throughout 96.26 km of survey distance. This resulted in a relative density of 0.21 crocodiles per kilometer.
During a Mark and Recapture Survey, we captured three juvenile American crocodiles in this area, which exhibited excellent conditions. On June 13, 2022, we conducted an NES on the Belize River mouth. We counted eight crocodiles in 10.17 km resulting in a relative density of 0.79 crocodiles per kilometer. On the same night, we captured a juvenile American crocodile in the Haulover Creek, Belize River. In Placencia Lagoon, monitoring is still in effect. The most recent NES of the Placencia Lagoon resulted in a relative density of 0.32 crocodiles per km. Over the past three months, we’ve captured seven juvenile American crocodiles within the Placencia Lagoon. The hatching season of the American crocodile just occurred in June/July. Unfortunately, we did not encounter any nest in Placencia Lagoon or its tributaries. However, we found one American crocodile nest in Sennis River, Toledo June 22, 2022. We revisited the nest on July 27, 2022, and captured the only hatchling seen in the area.
During a research trip to Turneffe Atoll, we found three nests in historically known habitats. On July 25 &26, 2022, CRC Researchers Jonathan Triminio and Makenna Middleton revisited the nests found in late April to assess the hatchling success of these nests. Nest 1 in Northern Caye contained 15 eggs in total; 8 hatched successfully. Nest 2 had 22 eggs in total; 17 hatched successfully. In Blackbird Caye, we encountered a nest containing 32 eggs. We observed two hatchlings inside a water well it was near. We captured the hatchings for data collection. All neonates captured from the three nests displayed excellent physical shape and conditions. In early August 2022, Intern Helena Wood-Barron came to the CRC to conduct her thesis on the vocalization structure of the Morelet’s and American crocodiles in Belize. During her internship, we captured 4 American crocodiles in Monkey River, Toledo (1 adult and 3 juveniles).
In Big Creek, we captured two yearlings, and in Deep River/Payne’s Creek, we captured two juveniles, all of whom displayed excellent physical conditions. In Belize District, we only captured one juvenile crocodile in Bourdon Canal.