First, I want to say feeding wild crocs (and the majority of any animal is ILLEGAL!!!!! ). And I hate to say this, but Americans (and I’m American so I can say this) are the worst at following this rule when they are on vacation (if you are angry at me now, go travel to a few Developing Countries and you will see what I mean). When I first came to Ambergris, one of the big events that happened at 4pm were a bunch of kids ILLEGALLY feeding crocs at a place called WASA Lagoon. They would hound tourist in town who would watch these kids lure crocs out of a lagoon, who would then would try to touch them, and sometimes even try to sit on the back of one. Sitting on the back of a croc happened a lot as the crocs got fatter and slower from all the thawed and un-thawed chicken the boys were feeding them. And yes, tourist thought it was ok to listen to these adolescent teens and sit on these 12 footer American Crocs, and sometimes even put their kids on the crocs back!!!!!! Well, I was part of the team that shut down this process in 2008. Why did we do this? Because feeding any type of wildlife lessens the fear of humans, and that’s when they become more aggressive. These crocs on Ambergris are now feeding on people’s pets as many of them have lost their fear of humans, coming right up to people’s houses. Sooner or later its going to be someone’s kid. So, if people want to lessen the croc-human conflict, it first starts with humans being educated and respecting the local community as not to aggregate the aggressiveness of the local wildlife.
So now its 2013. The illegal feedings have pretty much stopped, and there is a big sign at the WASA Lagoon. We went there the other night to catch some crocs for my research, but something amazing was observed! These crocs use to fight and just run up at the sight of chicken. But they have learned now that most of the time chicken means a rope around their neck and them being tagged or re-located (if its a problematic croc), etc. And they know one of the local biologists voice. They just don’t come near. Its amazing how well they have learned. And they know what one of the traps look like! Apparently, some of the crocs know to go around to get the chicken so they don’t get caught by one of the snare traps. The intelligence or ability to learn and adapt of these pre-historic creatures is amazing!!!!
Even though we didn’t catch any crocs the other night, I was kind of happy. These crocs know not to get close to humans, to stay away. This gives them a better chance of survival, especially with increase poaching and the senseless killing of crocs still happening on the island. Also, the ecosystem seems to be dying here which can’t be helping on the physiology and reproduction success of the species. A once beautiful island full of mangrove and right next to the world’s 2nd largest Coral Reef system is now becoming an island full of development (I heard someone once say they were going to make this island the next Venice, Italy), and it seems the pollution from the island has affected the coral reef as 50% of the coral is now bleached, and recently just got a grade “F” from an international oceanic organization. On the bright side, I have seen an improvement in attitudes towards crocs here, so ACES (the American Crocodile Education Sanctuary) is making a difference. Hopefully, the impact they make can help save this population of American Crocs, and its ecosystem, before its too late.