donated by Herpetofauna
The Orinoco crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius) is the largest crocodile species in South America, with current populations found only in Venezuela and Colombia. The species was heavily hunted for its skin in the 19th and 20th centuries due to its unique light colors, which variate from cream-colored, yellowish to dark brown-greyish in adults. Today, the species is still illegally hunted as a food source for protein or out of fear of the animals.
Its status to date, according to the IUCN, is "critically endangered" with 34 subpopulations. The largest subpopulations are located in Venezuela and estimated with fewer than 3,000 mature individuals in the wild.
The GECV (Grupo de Especialistas Cocodrilos de Venezuela) is an organization that has been working since 1990 to restore natural populations in Venezuela. Between 1990 and 2021, they reintroduced 10,764 individuals from crocodile farms. Unfortunately, of the ten fully operational faculties, only four are now left due to a lack of financial support.
This conservation project includes various activities that contribute to the recovery of the natural population. Eggs from nests in the wild are collected and incubated artificially. Young animals are transferred to the crocodile farm in cooperation with the locals. Here, most individuals are kept until about a year old, as most crocodiles in the wild die within their first life-year. After, they are reintroduced to areas deemed suitable for safeguarding the populations within national parcs.
Some individuals from wild populations are kept to provide new bloodlines too add to the captive reproductive populations within the farms own breeding programs. These wild individuals are kept for at least three years for reproduction purposes and then released into protected areas with proper habitat.
Research is being done into the population numbers, health and survival-rate of the yearlings in wild populations that have been reintroduced. Attention is also paid to training and educating students, park rangers, national guards, farmers and the government.
Currently, some subpopulations are stable, others are growing while some are still declining. Venezuela's wild population has sustained itself over the past 30 years thanks to these conservation projects. However, more research is needed into why some subpopulations fare better than others. Also, more financial support is needed to keep the remaining crocodile farms operating and to expand with new facilities to increase their reintroduction capacity.
We are proud to announce that the Herpetofauna Foundation will support the Orinoco crocodile conservation project in Venezuela in 2023. Because the Orinoco crocodile is an apex predator, this species has an important role as a top predator in the ecosystem. As a result, conservation of this species also contributes to a healthy ecosystem.