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Struggling to Preserve the Orinoco Crocodile in Venezuela


Orinoco crocodiles climb on top of each other at a breeding pond in Tormero, Venezuela.

The Orinoco crocodile in Venezuela is a fearsome beast, but its massive size and sharp teeth were no match for the humans who hunted it to the brink of extinction.

Millions were slaughtered in the 20th century, mainly for their skins, and today, there are only about 100 adult females left in Venezuela, according to the country’s Fudeci Natural Science Foundation.

Known to scientists as Crocodylus intermedius, the enormous reptile is native to the Orinoco Basin that Venezuela shares with Colombia.

It can reach a length of over six meters (19.7 ft) and over 400 kilograms (882 lb), making it one of the largest crocodiles in the world.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, they are critically endangered, having suffered an 80 percent population decline in just three generations in the early and mid-20th century.

More than 2.5 million Orinoco Crocodile skins were exported from Venezuela from 1931 to 1934, according to official Venezuelan figures.

Today, such trade is outlawed but the threat remains: crocodiles are killed for their eggs and meat, sometimes out of fear. Their habitats are constantly shrinking and desecrated by pollution.

Efforts that began in 1990 to breed new crocodiles in captivity have seen some 10,000 returned to the Venezuelan wild.

The Orinoco crocodile is critically endangered, and conservationists are caring for it for 90 days after it hatches before releasing it.

The Orinoco crocodile is endangered, and conservationists nurse it for 90 days after it hatches before releasing it into the wild.

But their numbers did not increase significantly.

“We are doing a part… to raise the animals and then release them, but then it no longer depends on us, there must be protection for these animals, control, control, there must be environmental education,” conservationist Federico Pantin said. Agence France-Presse.

Bantin, 56, runs the Leslie Bantin Zoo — named after his father who founded it — with his wife, Tuinady Hernandez, in the northern state of Aragua. It is one of the many crocodile breeding centers in the country.

“Seeds of Conservation”

On Sunday, Banten was ready to release 160 pups — small, green-skinned, with black spots and light eyes — into the Capanabaro River.

A captive breeding pair in a zoo produces about 40 eggs at a time.

The eggs are incubated for 90 days under very specific conditions, buried in the sand at a depth of 33 cm, at a temperature of 30–34 °C (86–93 °F) and a humidity of 85–90 percent.

Millions of Orinoco crocodiles have been killed in the past century to harvest their skins

Millions of Orinoco crocodiles have been killed in the past century to harvest their skins.

Crocodiles mostly hatch in May, and at about a year of age, they are released.

Zoo staff also capture alligators born in the river to raise them in relative safety.

“Predation in the natural environment is very high,” Pantin explained, with almost all birds, fish and other reptiles feeding on the helpless chicks.

By raising them in a zoo, 95% of the young survive – while most die in their natural environment.

“The animals arrive here at about 24 cm (9.4 in) long and weigh about 80 or 100 grams (2.8-3.5 ounces) … We release them when they are about 80 or 90 cm long and weigh four kilograms,” Bantin said.

According to Diego Bilbao, director of a company called Rio Verde that organizes tours to see the annual release of young crocodiles, the sector has tourism income potential with a conservation side benefit.

Fighting to save the Orinoco crocodile in Venezuela

Conservationist Federico Pantene works with baby Orinoco crocodiles.

He explained that if local people and indigenous communities could be persuaded to see crocodiles as a source of income, they would “help protect them”.

Banten Zoo, which also works to conserve other threatened species such as the red siskin sparrow, frog-footed and wood turtle, seeks to instill a natural stewardship mindset in its visiting school groups.

“I love it,” Hernandez said of this part of her job. “The seeds of conservation are sown at an early age.”

© 2023 AFP

the quote: Fighting to Save Venezuela’s Orinoco Crocodile (2023, May 3) Retrieved May 3, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-05-venezuela-orinoco-crocodile.html

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