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'Croc-Wise' push to protect reptiles

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

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THE National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) is urging the public to help in the conservation of the American Crocodile species in Jamaica.

The American Crocodile, the largest native reptile in the country, has come under increasing population threat from habitat loss and poaching.

To help stem the problem, 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 'Croc-Wise' outreach was in Black River, St Elizabeth, on December 6. 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. Operators along the river and residents have expressed their concern about crocodile poaching in Black River and the surrounding areas,” said fauna environmental officer in the Ecosystems Management Branch at NEPA, Treya Picking.

Picking told JIS News 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,” she said.

When a crocodile is sighted, the public is being encouraged to contact NEPA or the nearest police, instead of taking matters into their own hands. Attracting a crowd, throwing rocks or trying to get the reptile to move will cause it to feel stressed and retaliate, which can be extremely dangerous. Do not dump food waste in wetlands, gullies or other waterways as this will attract crocodiles. NEPA also advises 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.

“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,” Picking told JIS News.

NEPA's educational outreach recently received a boost through the Public Broadcasting Service video, 'Lord of the Wetlands, Changing Seas', which featured the crocodile conservation efforts of NEPA and the Urban Development Corporation.

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.

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