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Almost a year after 14 specimens of Crocodylus intermedius were delivered to the Orinoco on April 12, released in the Tomo River of the El Tuparro National Natural Park (Vichada), and after several days of work, the mission was completed with the release of 11 specimens . more specimens, for a total of 20 females and 5 males already enjoying their wildlife in the eastern Llanos.

The flat caiman or Orinoco crocodile is an endemic species of the country that was declared in “critical danger of extinction” in 1984, a category ratified by Colombia through Resolution 676 of July 21, 1997, issued by the then Ministry of the Environment. By that year, only a few examples remained due to the indiscriminate hunting of crocodiles between the 1930s and 1950s to export their skins.

The reptile considered the largest predator in Latin America reaches 7 m in length and is the only species whose distribution is in a single hydrographic basin: the Orinoco.

In order to preserve the species, the Roberto Franco Tropical Biology Station of the National University of Colombia (UNAL) in Villavicencio has been developing a life-saving project to reintroduce specimens into the wild for more than ten years, an initiative that today day is already a reality with the inclusion of these large reptiles in their natural habitat, we must continue the collaboration with the National Natural Parks and the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development.

“The individuals are between 13 and 15 years old, were born in captivity, incubated and protected at the Roberto Franco Station, and after several years of planning, studies of their DNA (to determine their ideal environment) and analysis of their transition behavior (hunting instinct), we showed that they were already ready to release them, together with the fourteen that were released last year,” says Professor Carlos Moreno from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences at the UNAL Bogotá headquarters.

The teacher, who is the current director of the Roberto Franco Tropical Biology Station, highlights the support for this project from WCS Colombia, the National Army, the Air Force, the Civil Defense of Colombia and Merecure Park.

Of the eight females and three males released on this occasion, five had satellite transmitters installed to monitor their status and behavior in real time. “When monitoring the previously released reptiles, a movement of no more than 40 km was found, which indicates that they are very comfortable in this area, as they were able to move much further,” added academic Moreno.

A benefit to the ecosystem and the community

Willinton Martínez Barreto, environmental and administrative engineer at UNAL, explains that “this is one of the oldest crocodiles in the Neotropics, so its conservation is essential; It is also very important for the food chain, because as the largest predator, its role is to regulate other populations and create balance in the ecosystem.”

“It is also a reservoir restorer because it maintains the depth of rivers and pools; In the dry season, the fish seek shelter, which is very beneficial for them, because they not only fertilize the plankton with their feces, but also keep the water oxygenated thanks to the movements they perform in the river,” he adds.

Despite the impact that can be observed from being free predators and the fear that this can arouse in some people, it must be taken into account that they are now in protected areas where there is no regular presence of humans, which has great direct benefits brings to the community. .

“This natural park is very extensive and attracts many people interested in ecotourism and sport fishing, and although some guides were initially unhappy with the presence of the crocodile there, in explaining its importance and history they saw the opportunity to to include the sighting of this imposing animal during their travels, and at the same time, this work with the community also allows us to be informed of any abnormalities in them,” emphasizes Professor Moreno.

Another factor to highlight is that in dialogue with elders who had not seen these species for years – most of them farmers – they stated that they have always associated the arrival or presence of the crocodile with the recovery of the fishery on these species.

The facts reveal a deep connection between the conservation of the Orinoco crocodile and the education of both the community and future generations. By understanding and appreciating the importance of this species in the ecosystem, people can overcome their fear and become active advocates for its conservation.

“The integration of sustainable tourism and the participation of children in educational activities at the Roberto Franco Station not only promote knowledge about biodiversity, but also generate a sense of responsibility and protection towards these endangered species,” says Professor Moreno.

Collaboration between the community, educational institutions and the more active presence of government agencies is essential to ensure a promising future for the Orinoco crocodile and for the country’s environment in general.

Source: National University Communications