In early 2018, the Crocodile Research Coalition (CRC) began hearing reports of dead fish and ill, lethargic crocodiles along New River around Orange Walk Town. During nocturnal eyeshine surveys and capture surveys in conjunction with the countrywide Morelet’s crocodile population survey, CRC observed lethargic crocodiles illustrating “white” skin patches of all sizes, in addition to pockets of dead fish and eutrophication. We conducted nocturnal eyeshines along New River in March and April 2018 to obtain data on the abundance of crocodiles on the New River. It was during these surveys we witnessed the concerns of community members. Crocodiles near Orange Walk Town illustrated “white patches” on their skin and illustrated a bluish tint, as if something in the water was degrading or creating the skin to slough off easily. Crocodiles also illustrated lethargy or “star-gazing,” a neurological symptom that paralyzes crocodiles from moving.
CRC conducted necropsies on 2 Morelet’s crocodiles that were captured near Banquitas Bridge and Maracas Restaurant in Orange Walk Town. Necropsies illustrated disintegrated organs, and signs of chronic exposure to contamination. The CRC team conducted necropsies immediately to obtain the most accurate samples for future heavy metal analysis, however collecting of samples proved difficult given upon opening up the thoracic cavity, the organs were already disintegrating in both crocodiles. This is very abnormal, and given the state of some of the organs this animal has been ill and dying for a few months (this was confirmed with fellow colleagues from the IUCN/SSC-Crocodile Specialist Group). CRC is unaware of any disease to cause such disintegration of organs in an animal. Given the state of organ decomposition (even while they were alive) and the white skin of these crocodiles, CRC has given the names of these crocodiles as White Walkers.
Local film maker Daniel Velazquez created a short documentary illustrating the issue of New River and the current research by the CRC. Check it out here: