This month’s CRC blog is written by Intern Greg Boussens-Dumon.
This is Greg, a relatively new CRC intern. I have been working with the CRC for several weeks now conducting biodiversity surveys, eyeshine surveys and capture surveys, dealing with croc related issues and observing Rick (the CRC’s new croc ambassador. For those unfamiliar with Rick the Morelet’s Croc, long story short… Rick was rescued by the Placencia Police, picked up the CRC who sent him to the Belize Wildlife Referral and Clinic to get some veterinary TLC, then headed back to the CRC where it was determined that he could not be re-released back into the wild due to his MANY physical ailments due to poor husbandry as someone’s pet, and his YEARS of habituation to humans). Considering Rick is probably going to stay with the CRC for the long term, we were curious to know how the little fellow was adapting to his new home, and Marisa thought that it would be good to conduct a month of behavior observation of Rick (as she learned to do while working at the Los Angeles Zoo many moons ago. This type of observation is to assess if there is something about the enclosure that stresses an animal, etc.). It would also be good practice for me as I am interested in developing a croc behavior project during my internship with the CRC. I am actually working on my own project proposal right now (but more on that later).
So, during the past 4 weeks I have spent some time observing Rick, either from a high veranda for a birds eye view, or from the ground, sitting a few feet outside the fence. I would watch Rick in the morning (starting from 6 am) or the evening (until 6pm) for an average of 2hrs, recording his position in the enclosure every 20 minutes as well as any interesting behavior he would show. So, I’m sure you are wondering, “How does Rick like his new home?” Well, here is what I’ve observed.
First, Rick seems to looove swimming (as every croc does). Out of 98 20-minute
observation intervals, I have seen him 76 times in the water and only 22 times basking on land (Graph 1). The way Rick uses the pool is not random either. I have seen him 65 times at the surface of the water but only 11 times submerged. Being in the water, with just the eyes and the snout emerging from the surface, is not without reason. It is a very good position for him to observe his environment while being safe from land threats, yet also displaying his instinctual ambush predator position, waiting for a lizard, bird (or piece of chicken) to be at water’s edge where SNAP! Dinner is served!
Interestingly, Rick has favorite part of the pool. I caught Rick hanging out in the deeper end only 14 times compared to chilling in the shallow part of the pool 62 times. In this part, the water in the shallow end is heated up more rapidly while he also has the height to chill (kind of like how we may only submerge half our body when we go to the beach). And again, it is also a perfect spot to ambush a potential
prey. Even though Rick has not shown any hunting behavior during my observations, it might be a habit that illustrates an innate behavior of crocodilian evolution. More surprisingly though, Rick seems to prefer area B to area A to chill in the water (Graph 2). Why is that so ? It might be that this corner of the pool receives light for a longer time during the day and therefore remains warmer? Further observations may reveal further his preference…
My efforts to observe Rick from outside the enclosure, next to the fence has been a bit unsuccessful since his behavior is obviously disturbed by my presence, and he still has a bit of habituation towards people in that people = food (he doesn’t want to eat us, he just associates us with mealtime). However, I have made an awesome encounter at this spot, with an iguana walking right by me, chilling under my legs and digging a hole right by my feet.
Hopefully with our new target training he will rid of this association and I can begin observing him from a closer viewpoint. We are trying to erase this bad habit and get him used to his caretakers/trainers so that if maintenance is needed in his enclosure we can go in without him rushing us for food. Luckily the CRC has MANY colleagues internationally who have given them guidelines for successful training (in addition to a visit from a group of croc/gator behaviorists from Florida, USA to give us a one-on-one training). A work in progress that we will begin documenting so stay tuned to a likely a very entertaining yet educational video!
So Rick is doing great, he’s loving his new enclosure, and we are looking forward to him becoming an amazing Croc Ambassador here in Belize!