Morelet’s Crocodile – GuatemalaRowland Griffin, Indigo Expeditions

I first encountered crocodylians in the wild during my visit to the tropics in Peru. Sitting in a canoe at night surrounded by huge black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) is a memory I will never forget.

Since that first experience in 2006 I have become so inspired by these ancient and intelligent creatures.

The species I have spent most time with is Morelet’s crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii). Morelet’s crocodiles are endemic to southern Mexico, the Yucatán Peninsular, Belize, and northern Guatemala.

In recent history they were almost hunted to extinction for their skins, which were highly sought after for the leather trade. Since the trade in crocodile skins became regulated populations have thankfully started to recover.

Behaviour & Ecology

In behaviour and ecology, Morelet’s crocodile are perhaps more similar to caiman than their close relative the American crocodile (C. acutus). They are found in slow flowing rivers, swamps, and lagoons, whereas the American crocodile is found mainly in estuaries and coastal waters.

Morelet’s crocodile are classed as a medium sized crocodylian. Reaching a maximum length of around 3.5m, they are still a formidable animal.

National Reptile Zoo

In 2015 Indigo Expeditions launched its Morelet’s Crocodile Project at Las Guacamayas in Laguna del Tigre National Park, northern Guatemala.

We teamed up with crocodile expert James Hennessy at the National Reptile Zoo in Ireland. With James’ advice, expertise, and enthusiasm, we designed a survey to study the population of Morelet’s crocodile in two rivers near to Las Guacamayas, the Rio San Pedro and Rio Sacluc.

Morelet’s Conservation Project

Our survey work has shown that there are around 130 Morelet’s crocodile on the 26km of the Rio San Pedro that we surveyed. On the surface this seems great, but we do not yet know if this is stable, increasing, or decreasing.

Our work continues this year and we hope that we will start to see more into the life of these amazing animals. To do that we need to identify individual animals. 

Along with National Reptile Zoo, and our volunteers, we are developing non-invasive survey methods using a GoPro camera attached to a long pole to get video footage that will enable us to identify individuals through pattern recognition.

The success of this project relies on the participation and enthusiasm of our volunteers, and this year is no exception. Our research team will be spending two months over the summer surveying the Rio San Pedro and Rio Sacluc for Morelet’s crocodile.

It is such a privilege to spend time with these endangered crocodiles and for them to let us into their lives.

Rowland Griffin with crocodile expert James Hennessy at the National Reptile Zoo in 2015.

One of our researchers on the Morelet’s Conservation Project team in 2016.

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