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Tuesday, June 08, 2004

American Crocodiles 300 Million Years and Counting

Just 200 individuals stood between a future for a species and extinction now, 30 years later, there are an estimated 1000 American Crocodiles in the low lying mangroves surrounding Florida's Everglades.

Factors ranging from unprecedented urban sprawl and hunting to sugar plantation run off which pollutes vast portions of the Everglades have, for years, put enormous pressure on the species.

American Crocodile
artist: Robin Bouttell
Crocodilians are relics of the age of reptiles, an era in which these primitive-looking creatures ruled the earth for 100 million years. Today, only 23 crocodilian species remain and many of these are in danger of extinction from conflicts with man. Of all the reptiles, crocodilians are the largest and have the most complex behavior including elaborate courtship displays, nest building behavior and social rituals.

Shy and elusive, these native cousins to the Central and South American Crocodile were on the verge of extinction 25 years ago when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service placed them on the "Endangered Species List". Listing means that the species, left on their own, would almost certainly become extinct.

Even as urban development threatened the crocodiles with extinction, some man made projects actually provided for their welfare. Florida Power and Electric has dug miles of canals in an attempt to drain water from properties used for their plant facilities in south Florida. These canals are the favored habitat of American Crocodiles and provide shelter for nesting.

With the nesting sites up to double that of 25 years ago U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials in the Atlanta Regional Office this week announced that they were cautiously recommending down-listing the American Crocodile from "endangered" to "threatened", a distinction that carries the same protections but with a measure of optimism for the survival of the species...that is, as long as the Crocodile Specialist Group doesn't promote them into handbags and crocburgers.

The CSG is, in their own words, "a worldwide network of biologists, wildlife managers, government officials, independent researchers, NGO representatives, farmers, traders, tanners, fashion leaders, and private companies" whose concern to protect endangered species, including abatement of illegal poaching, is limited to not only preserving the American Crocodile for posterity but for their own member's prosperity garnered from the future trade in hides and meat. Talk about out of the frying pan..., how long do you imagine the crocodile will last if left to the mercies of "tanners" and "fashion merchants?"

Conservation efforts need to be directed by people of compassion, financed by corporations in the spirit of public service rather than profit and guided by scientists and government officials in the course of doing their jobs and not as agents for the profiteers. The American Crocodile is a creature which has consistently demonstrated over 300 million years its instinct for self preservation and, but for the interference of man, should probably be on earth for millennia to come.

You may reach U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director, Steven Williams at 202 208-4717 or email Assistant Director of Endangered Species, Gary Frazer