Croc gets status, Caymanian training

A crocodile that was captured in Cayman waters last December is to become a permanent fixture on Grand Cayman.

The female croc, which measures seven feet, eight inches in length, is to be a permanent display animal at what was originally to be her temporary home – Boatswain’s Beach.

After the stray crocodile was captured in the area of Old Man Bay 10 months ago, the original aim of the Department of Environment had been to source the animal’s population of origin and to send it back where it belongs.

But the time-consuming effort has not been successful for two reasons and the DoE recommended to Boatswain’s Beach and the Department of Agriculture that the animal not be sent back to the wild.

Boatswain’s Beach made a decision to keep the animal just a few weeks ago, said Geddes Hislop, Curator Terrestrial Exhibits.

Senior Research Officer with the Department of Environment Mat Cottam explained the circumstances that led the DoE to recommend the animal not be sent back to the wild.

It turns out that the animal seems to be a hybrid of crocodile species.

Crocodile experts in the US who had viewed photographs of the animal were sure it was an American Crocodile (Crocodylus Acutus), which means it could have more than one country of origin. DNA results were required to determine which one.

However, the results of DNA sent to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama matched that of a Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus Rhombifer).

Mr. Cottam said that the DNA taken was mitochondrial DNA, which, in animals that reproduce sexually, is exclusively inherited from the mother.

‘Given the croc’s physical appearance, it would appear that it is possible that the mother might be Rhombifer and the father Acutus, which means our croc would be a hybrid,’ he explained.

Obtaining, shipping and analyzing the DNA was a complicated and lengthy matter.

As a hybrid, it would be unlikely that any country would want the reptile back.

‘Repatriation of a hybrid into the wild would usually be regarded as undesirable from a nature conservation perspective, as it might have the potential to interbreed with other species,’ Mr. Cottam said.

Also, by the time the DNA samples had been processed, the croc had remained in captivity for a significant period of time – around five months at that point.

Ms Ebanks-Petrie had noted back in May after the results came from the Smithsonian Institute that they took longer to come back because the experts had been so baffled by them.

Mr. Cottam explained that despite methods employed by DoA and Boatswain’s Beach to minimise human contact with the animal, it is doubtless that over this period it would have become increasingly habituated toward people, which would reduce its natural instincts to stay away from humans, which would reduce the desirability of releasing the animal into the wild.

It was decided it would be best to keep the animal at Boatswain’s Beach as an exhibit, subject to suitable housing.

Mr. Hislop explained, ‘The way circumstances are it’s the best thing that could have happened it. It can’t go back to the wild because it’s a hybrid so nobody would want it back and now it’s used to people’.

Since Boatswain’s Beach made the decision to keep the croc it has been training her to become more acclimatised to people to make it easier for cleaning her enclosure and in order to entice the animal from under a hiding place when people want to view her.

Boatswain’s Beach is in the process of designing an exhibit space for the animal, which is being done with the help of a crocodile expert from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The exhibit is being designed in the best interests of safety and of the animal, Mr. Hislop said, and looks like it could cost in the region of around $20,000.

They are seeking sponsorship of the crocodile exhibit. The Caiman crocodile is sponsored by Autohaus while the largest turtle, Sparky, is sponsored by CUC.

‘They [companies] get a lot of mileage out of this,’ he said. ‘It’s a way of being seen as green.’

The naming of the croc will perhaps be up to the sponsor, or part of a publicity campaign about the new exhibit, he said.

He noted that realistically it will probably be early next year when the animal goes on show as an exhibit.

The exhibit will also contain information about crocodiles and will be used as an educational tool for public awareness. ‘We want people to respect these animals. There’s a difference between respect and fear,’ he said.

The reality is, he said, that this animal showed up in our waters, and it could happen again.

The croc was captured in Old Man Bay on 30 December following calls from the public to the Emergency Communications Centre. It was shot with a spear-gun by a member of the public but recovered fully from its wound under veterinarian care in a dry tank at Boatswain’s Beach under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture.

Anyone interested in sponsoring the crocodile can contact Boatswain’s Beach on 949-3894.