In late March, the Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) in collaboration with Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), Belize Wildlife Referral & Clinic (BWRC), and Croc U (aka our friend and colleague Shawn Heflick), headed into Chiquibul Forest to initiate the crocodile management program and train the FCD research team how to perform crocodile research so they can continue monitoring the population and establishing a monitoring program (https://aloadofcroc.wordpress.com/2016/04/09/the-chronicles-of-chiquibul-part-i/ AND https://aloadofcroc.wordpress.com/2016/04/09/chronicles-of-chiquibul-forest-part-deux/). However, due to technical difficulties last time (boat engine dying on us thus having to perform surveys on a canoe) we all reunited to head back into this magnificent jungle to finish and perform a proper crocodile population survey of the Morelet’s crocodile.
Contrary to our first trip, this excursion went smooth and without a hitch, with the addition of Shawn sharing with us some of his musical talents! We saw about80 crocodiles of various sizes in the 2 nights of nocturnal eyeshine survey and 2 nights of capture and tag, and we found a couple of MONSTROUS nests, which are characteristic of nests being re-used in multiple years. Overall, the crocodile population seemed healthy, living in a pristine environment far away from human harassment (poaching does exist in Chiquibul Forest but it seems the crocodile population is of no interest to poachers). The trip was full of fun and adventure, with a lot of exchange of knowledge (us teaching the rangers all things croc, FCD and BWRC teaching us about Scarlet Macaw
conservation, and FCD rangers teaching CRC intern Andrew Austin how to make tortillas in the jungle!). And then, 2 nights prior to leaving the jungle, we got a real croc surprise….
Cannibalism in crocodiles is somewhat commonplace: is it a result of territorial defense? a lack of adequate prey source? a parasite? No one really knows much about croc cannibalism and most observations are of one moment. Yet, from our experience croc cannibalism may be common amongst the crocs on the Macal River. In one night, we witnessed two different occurrences of cannibalism by 2 different crocs. The next night, we saw cannibalism of another croc. Interestingly enough, the next night we found one of the same larger crocs consuming another croc!!!! And all the cannibalized crocs were about 5ft- reproductive size, being consumed by 8ft+ crocs. So, what’s going on here???? There is definitely some interesting behavior going on in this area, and the CRC and the FCD will be initiating a behavior study in this area. Luckily, we may already have an enthusiastic student who is just starting his grad school to collaborate with us (but interested volunteers, please contact the CRC!).
Well, we have submitted a small research note to a scientific journal already discussing our findings and the possible reasons behind the cannibalism. So you’ll have to wait for our conjectures, but what do you think?