Over the years, Cayman has been affected by changes in climate and the rise and fall of the sea level.
Throughout this time, many creatures have gone extinct due to natural changes in the environment. However, since human settlement in the early 1500s the pace of extinctions has accelerated at an alarming rate. This following information is written by Frank Roulstone.
The Crocodile (Caiman)
The Cayman Islands are named for the crocodile. There were two species of crocodile found in the Cayman Islands; the fresh water ‘Cuban Crocodile’ Crocodylus rhombifer and the Salt water ‘American Crocodile’ Crocodylus acutus. Both were hunted to extinction here. There are many references to crocodiles by early mariners and illustrated depictions on early maps. On 18 April 1586, Sir Francis Drake recorded ‘There weare crocadiles which did Incounter and fight with vs, they live bothe in the sea on lande.’
Sir Francis killed as many animals as he could, then ‘set the woods on fire and soe departed.’ This was the beginning of the end for Cayman’s crocodiles.
The Cuban Crocodile was recorded from Cuba, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands. It now exists only in a small area of Cuba where it is protected and is starting to make a come back. It is an endangered species and it is estimated that between 3,000 to 6,000 remain. It eats mainly fish but can leap from the water to snatch small mammals. It is a medium sized crocodile attaining about 10 feet in length and occasionally up to fifteen.
The range of the American Crocodile is much of Central America, the Greater Antilles, Northern South America and Southern Florida. The Cayman Islands is the only place in its range where it has been hunted to extinction. It is considered ‘vulnerable’ with an estimated 10,000-20,000 remaining in the wild (source:IUCN Red List) and is protected in almost every country in the region. Even though the Florida population is slowly growing it is considered endangered. Some countries have management plans in place to preserve the species (eg. Dominican Republic) and the species has also successfully been farmed (Cuba). Healthy wild populations exist in Belize and Cuba, the latter the likely source of our recent visitor although Jamaica also has crocs in protected areas.
The American Crocodile eats fish, crabs and turtles and feeds primarily at night. Attacks on humans are extremely rare and they are considered harmless to humans unless provoked or attacked. They can achieve a length of up to 20 feet long but specimens of 12 feet are now considered large.
The internet is a great source of information on crocs. Searching will result in a wealth of information on both species, their habits and their risk to humans. The fossils of Crocodylus rhombifer are on display at the National Trust Visitors Center at the Dart Family Park in George Town.
Grow Cayman Plants and encourage Cayman Wildlife! For more information, to share your knowledge or if you would like to get involved with the many activities in the National Trust’s Know Your Islands Program, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.ky, www.caymanwildlife.org or call 949-0121.
Last week’s answer: Daub is a limestone based plaster, made by burning coral rocks with various woods in a lime kiln.
Trivia question: Name 3 species that have become extinct in the Cayman Islands.
Look for the answer in next week’s feature!