Plans are afoot to send the crocodile that was captured in Cayman waters over the holiday period back to where it comes from.
Finding out exactly where that is will be the first step in the process.
The 7.5- to eight-foot American Crocodile was captured in Old Man Bay on 30 December following many calls from the public to the 911 Emergency Communications Centre reporting a sighting.
The reptile is now recovering at Boatswain’s Beach from a spear gun wound inflicted during the capture.
‘We believe it is in the animal’s best interests to repatriate it to its native population where it comes from,’ said Director of the Department of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie at a special press conference at Boatswain’s Beach Friday afternoon.
‘We are not certain of the origin of the animal but given the water conditions and the geographic closeness of Cuba we think it’s the most likely source of the animal,’ she said.
In order to confirm this the Department of Agriculture took blood samples and the DoE has made contact with two separate groups overseas, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and Texas State University, which are willing to do genetic analysis to determine the population of origin.
‘We are looking at that information basically to look at repatriating the animal to its original population,’ Ms Ebanks-Petrie said. ‘That is our primary goal.’
A lot of work has still to be done with regard to the practicalities of shipping the blood samples, which requires CITES permits, and these practical arrangements are being made. The timeframe for obtaining the results is still unknown, she said.
Ms Ebanks-Petrie added that it is not certain how definite the results of the tests of where the crocodile comes from will be, but the primary goal is to get it back to where it came from.
Wild populations of these animals occur in the South Eastern US, Cuba, Jamaica, Central and South America. This type of crocodile can grow up to 20 feet, although that length is very rare, Ms Ebanks-Petrie said.
The American crocodile is not aggressive by nature. The Cuban crocodile is much more aggressive, she said.
Ms Ebanks-Petrie noted that it is not absolutely certain that the crocodile swam here, for instance, she said, it could have come off a boat that was passing by.
However, crocodiles have been occasional visitors to Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands in the past, with the last sighting in the 1950s.
Department of Agriculture spokesman Brian Crichlow said the main concern is the welfare of the animal.
The animal remains under veterinary care at Boatswain’s Beach under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture. The reptile has been responding very well to veterinary treatment, said Mr. Crichlow.
The Department of Agriculture will work with Boatswain’s Beach to modify the housing of the animal and to minimize stress for it and minimize its contact with people so it can be returned to the wild.
For this reason also, the crocodile has not been officially named.
The crocodile is being housed in an outdoor pen in the working turtle farm area of Boatswain’s Beach, which is closed to the public, but which allows veterinarians easy access to the reptile.
The housing situation is temporary, because as it needs less and less veterinary assistance it will be screened off to limit its exposure to humans.
Following a question from the Caymanian Compass, Ms Ebanks-Petrie said the DoA and DoE agreed on Friday morning that all involved agencies, including Boatswain’s Beach and the police, need to get together and agree that if such a sighting happens again all agencies are contacted with a discussion on how to proceed before any action is taken.
Ms Ebanks Petrie said it is important that the public understands that in the Cayman Islands at the moment there is no legislation that allows protection to these animals in the wild.
‘This is something that would be offered by our new conservation legislation and so it’s another reason why we need it,’ she said.
‘Our Animals Law is the local legislation we currently operate under for animal protection and welfare. It was passed in 1976 and is extremely outdated,’ she said. Animals given protection under this law are non-domestic birds and iguanas.
Both Mr. Crichlow and Ms Ebanks Petrie said they were very grateful to Boatswain’s Beach for housing the animal.
If anyone believes they have sighted another crocodile they should call the Department of Environment at 949 8469.