KINGSTON, Jamaica, Tuesday December 18, 2018 – The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) is moving to help conserve the American Crocodile species, the largest native reptile in Jamaica, which has come under increasing population threat from habitat loss and poaching.
NEPA has embarked on a ‘Croc-Wise’ educational outreach targeting communities and schools around crocodile habitats to develop an appreciation for the reptile in youth and community members.
The last stop of the outreach was in Black River, St. Elizabeth. The Black River Lower Morass is the largest wetland in the island and a well-known crocodile habitat that generates many reported cases of human-crocodile interactions.
“As our population is growing, more and more communities are encroaching into wetland habitats, which is causing a disturbance, and it is resulting in conflict. A lot of people have a view that ‘we need to kill it before it kills us’, so when people run into crocodiles they do not have the most suitable reactions,” said Fauna Environmental Officer in the Ecosystems Management Branch at NEPA, Treya Picking, adding that the American Crocodile “is one of the shiest species of crocodiles”.
“They are more likely to flee at the sight of humans than attack, but like any wild animal, they will become defensive and aggressive when they feel threatened. The best approach you can take is to be extremely cautious in a crocodile habitat and just to respect their habitat or space.”
The public is being encouraged to contact NEPA or the nearest police if a crocodile is sighted, instead of taking matters into their own hands.
NEPA also warned that throwing rocks or trying to get the reptile to move will cause it to feel stressed and retaliate, and warned Jamaicans against dumping in wetlands, gullies or other waterways as food waste will attract crocodiles. NEPA also advised the public not to feed crocodiles under any circumstance.
The crocodile, which is featured in multiple ways in Jamaican culture, also plays an important role in the environment, Picking noted.
“In terms of environmental importance, it’s our apex predator. They control the balance in the ecosystem, so if you remove the top predator it will have a very negative effect. It would affect the fish stock and the quality of the wetland habitat. People really do need to stop poaching, as it is having very negative effects on the population, and if trends continue it could lead to the extinction of the species in Jamaica, which we would not want at all,” she said.
Crocodiles are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, which makes it an offence for anyone to kill or have in their possession the whole or any part of the crocodile.