The American Crocodile

.. sing between 250,000 and 500,000 skins per year. As supplies dwindled (crocodiles), prices rose and so did the profitability of hunting. Even after protective laws were enacted, the profit incentive encouraged large-scale poaching and smuggling of illegal skins by middlemen servicing the tanneries and leather markets. By the middle of the 1960s crocodile hunting had left many species critically threatened, including the American crocodile near to extinction.

Today the world market for crocodilian skins is about 2 million hides per year. Some of these come from licensed, controlled hunting and some are harvested from the captive populations on farms and ranches. These skins are considered to be illegal, but at least a million of the hides taken annually are obtained from poachers. (102 Levy). Also, Habitat destruction is responsible for reduction, and in inhabited area motor vehicles are a major killer of crocodiles. [The American crocodile almost disappeared from its only habitat in the United States, by the 1970s.

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But now, A well-protected population of crocodiles exists at the southernmost tip of Florida. The transformed natural landscape that limited their range now supports about 500 animals. Habitats have been protected by both state and federal agencies as well as by the nuclear power industry. The major nuclear power plant of South Florida at Turkey Point has found increasing numbers of the endangered crocodiles in residence and even successfully breeding in the 168 mile network of mangrove-lined cooling canals] . At first environmentalists challenged the nuclear power plant at Turkey Point, because the heated water, that is a byproduct of the plant, seemed sure to kill seagrasses in Biscayne Bay.

The Power company’s solution: an extensive network of cooling canals where the water would be cooled before it was returned to Biscayne Bay. As the canals were dug, the extra sand was piled alongside, fashioning a perfect place for a crocodile to nest (1A McClure). [The Florida Power and Light Company has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in crocodile research efforts and has abandoned plans for expansion of the power plant, leaving the crocodile habitat safe for the foreseeable future] (120 Levy). Once chased by development into a 20-square mile patch of southern Dade County and the northern Florida Keys, crocodiles now are reproducing enough that they are spreading out again. The generally secretive reptiles are showing up along much of South Florida’s coast, from Sanibel Island to the Bonnet House in Ft.

Lauderdale. [It is the explosion of suitable nesting sites that is driving the crocodile’s recovery, which saw an estimated 20 nests in 1974 climb to at least 42 in 1995] (1A). Nesting is the most reliable way to tell if crocodiles are re-colonizing an area, so a clutch of eggs discovered on Sanibel Island [in 1995] was particularly encouraging for researchers, even though none of the eggs were hatched (1A). In [1993] there was a record year at Turkey Point, with 12 nests and 155 hatchlings found. And, in [1994] nine nests and 153 hatchlings were recorded a month into hatching time.

The crocodiles lay their eggs on land in exposed sites, usually within 30 feet of the water.. Mound nests are composed of sand and earth combined with a great deal of plant material (grasses, water reeds, and leaves), the decay of which releases heat to help insulate the eggs. The hole is excavated with the hind feet, and the excavated soil is subfrequently used to cover the eggs. Mostly as a mound-nesting species the crocodile will first gather a collection of leaves, grasses, reeds and other plant litter at the selected nesting site and then create a mound using this plant material combined with earth or sand. Then the mother compacts all the material into a firm, solid mound.

Finally, she excavates a cavity up to two feet deep, lays her eggs and covers them up. In crocodilians, the temperature experienced by the embryo in its egg is a major determination of hatchling sex, this is referred to as temperature-dependent sex determination or TSD. TSD has been proven in five species of crocodiles and is probably true for all species, because crocodilians lack sex chromosomes. Exclusively females are produced at low incubation temperatures, males are produced at intermediate temperatures, and high temperatures produce mostly or only females. Where the female builds her nest and when she lays her eggs both have major effects on the sex ratio for her offspring. Thermal cues probably play a major role in nest-site selection and construction.

It is not surprising that, in many crocodilian nests, all of the siblings are of the same sex. The crucial period of thermal sensitivity begins early in development and extends throughout the first half of incubation (120 Ross). Without knowing it FPL created ideal nesting sites for crocodiles (1E Miller). Along with the cooling canals of Turkey Point, Everglades National Park, and Key Largo are the key breeding areas for C. acutus.

As American crocodiles produce commercially valuable hide, sustainable utilization programs based on ranching and farming are feasible, However, the development of management programs based on sustainable utilization must be approached on a country-by-country basis and be directly linked to the health of wild populations. A majority of countries [8 of the 17] that the crocodile inhibits have management programs based on complete protection, but only a few have enforced legislation. El Salvador and Haiti have no management programs whatsoever. In five countries, farming of the American crocodile has begun (3 Species). In the early 1960s, the wild crocodilian resource necessary for the skin trade had dwindled and the first conservation laws were enacted, resulting in a simultaneous rise in prices and in the demand for skins.

It was at this time that farsighted conservationists and skin producers started to investigate the feasibility of farming and ranching crocodilians on a sustained, commercial basis. Conservation and educational farms aim at breeding endangered species, such as the American crocodile, in captivity for possible release back into protected areas in the wild. Commercial development and international trade in endangered species such as crocodiles must satisfy the criteria of the convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). Commercial farms must be able to demonstrate, for a defined geographic area, that the impact of harvesting is not detrimental to the survival of the species. Current efforts are being made to preserve the habitat of the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), whose relatives date back as far as 200 million years. The American crocodile, the second most widely distributed of the New World crocodiles, ranging from the southern tip of Florida, both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts of Southern Mexico, as well as the Caribbean islands of Cuba, Jamaica, and Hispaniola (1 Species).

The American crocodile is often confused for its cousin the American alligator the more aggressive and dominant reptile of Florida. However, there are vast differences between the two species. Hunted for their hides and the changing of their habitat to beach front property is slowly pushing the American crocodile out of Florida, the only place it is found in the United States. Perhaps with the continued efforts of FPL and CITES the American crocodile will become a more abundant species. Bibliography Internet World Book.


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