Orinoco Crocodile facts
The Orinoco crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius) can only be found in Colombia and Venezuela. It inhabits the Orinoco and Meta rivers drainage basins in the Llanos savanna, which becomes waterlogged with each rainy season. This will form temporary seasonal rivers for them to live in. In the past, they could be found in other rivers as well (e.g. streams in the Andes foothills), but nowadays this one of the most endangered crocodile species.
There have been some reports of individuals appearing in Trinidad island, more than 150 miles to the north of Venezuela. These crocodiles were probably swept out to sea during floods, or may have been carried on floating mats of vegetation. This indicates a certain tolerance to saltwater for this species.
The Orinoco crocodile will retreat into burrows during the dry season if their temporary river dries up. They will also travel over land to find other areas where higher water levels remain. During the dry season, it was possible in the past to, find large concentrations of these crocodiles, in a small area. This was a factor in the near extinction drop of the species numbers, because when hunters found them, it was easy to kill a large number rapidly.
The Orinoco crocodile look is very similar to the American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), but its snout is a bit more narrow and elongated, making its head look more like the Slender-snouted crocodile (Crocodylus cataphractus). They may also be recognized by their symmetrical dorsal armor.
There are some historical records of animals reaching 6 or 7 meters but these remain mostly unconfirmed. Today is estimated that the maximum size for males is around 5 m, nevertheless they are considered South America's largest predator. The male will typical weight about 380 kg, females are smaller. The Orinoco crocodile can reach an age of 60 to 80 years.
In this crocodile species occurs a color variation with 3 phases:
- 'mariposo' with a grayish green body and dark black dorsal patches
- 'amarillo' is the most common coloration with a light, tan body and some scattered darker areas.
- 'negro' which is a more a uniformly dark gray.
There have been observed changes in color when in captivity over a long period.
Orinoco crocodile - Diet
Juvenile and young Orinoco crocodiles will feed mainly on small fish and invertebrates. As an adult the Orinoco crocodile can overcome probably any animal that inhabits its range. However the main portion of its diet still is made up by fish. They will also eat other aquatic vertebrates, birds, and terrestrial animals like the capybara. There have been sporadic reports of crocodile attacks on humans and domestic animals, but today with low numbers this species is not found in the heavily populated areas.
Orinoco crocodile - Reproduction
The Orinoco crocodile mating season occurs during the dry season in January and February. The eggs will hatch at the start of the rainy season. Some 14 weeks after the mating,the female digs out a nest, usually in a sand bank exposed by the lowering water levels.
The female lays an average of 40 eggs per batch, but the can go from 15 to 70. The incubation period last for about 70 to 90 days. The mother will defend the nest against tegu lizards (monitor lizards), and American Black Vultures.
The offspring will emerge making chirping sounds, that alerts the mother, she will help dig them out and carries them to the water. The female will defend her offspring for 1 to 3 years. Even with the mother's protection the main threats the young comes from the green anaconda and the Black Caiman.
Orinoco crocodile - Conservation status and major threats
The Orinoco crocodile was over-hunted from the the 1930s to the 1960s. This is the primary cause for their current critical status, particularly in Colombia. They were protected both Colombia and Venezuela in the 1970s, but this as been rather ineffective for a number of reasons. The species population numbers have increased, but recovery has been very slow.
Today the main threats to the Orinoco Crocodile still include hunting for their valuable skin, juvenile collection for the exotic pet trade, and also the eggs and meat as a food source. They also suffer from pollution and habitat destruction. Another threat comes from the use of crocodile teeth in some forms of alternative medicine.
This crocodile species has an estimated wild population of about 250 to 1,500 individuals. There is the need to some additional research work that can reveal unknown populations. The Orinoco crocodile species is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and they are also listed on CITES Appendix I.
Plans for the Orinoco Crocodile sustainable use and reintroduction are helping the species in Venezuela. On the other hand in Colombia, farming and release programs are being considered by the authorities. Since the early 1990s, captive raised hatchlings and young (2 m long) have been reintroduced in the wild in Venezuela's Llanos region, where the wildlife tourism is an important source of income.
Orinoco Crocodile - Name Etymology and common names
The word Crocodylus is derived from the Greek krokodeilos which means literally "pebble worm". Where kroko means pebble and deilos means worm, or man. This is a reference to the appearance of a crocodile.
The word intermedius means "intermediate" in Latin and refers to the shape of the snout which is between the V-shaped snout of most crocodile species and the very elongated and narrow Gharial snout. They are also known by other names like Cocodrilo del Orinoco, Colombian crocodile, Crocodile de l'Orénoque, Caimán del Orinoco, Venezuelan delta crocodile and Caimán del Llanos.
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