Yesterday, we showed you Bal Boa, the Boa Constrictor, who helped to give an education on her fellow snake species and about the misconceptions and deep-rooted fears in the public mind.
Well, while there, we also got an education on crocodiles, and that is important because there have been more than a few times when these reptiles ended up deep in the ‘hood, only to be abused, butchered and sold as meat.
Well, tonight, we show you Rose, the baby croc, who is non-threatening, and is receiving a lot of love from her human handlers:
Daniel Ortiz reporting
Rose is a newly hatched, domesticated, American crocodile living at the Belize Zoo. She weighs about 1 pound, and she is about a foot and 3 inches in length. She allows her handlers to cradle her like an infant, and she seems to enjoy human contact. Her story is interesting because crocs are usually appreciated and respected from a safe distance, because while they are beautiful, they have strong predatory instincts. Those instincts often become adversarial when humans come in contact with those of her species, so that’s what’s so unique about Rose.
Jamal Andrewin - Environmental Educator Belize Zoo
"There’s absolutely no documentation on it, it's never been done before, like I said, that a crocodile has been raised in this way. We've had Rose since the day she hatched, basically. I will just give you a little of a back story; the crocodile wasn't meant to be, she was supposing an infertile egg that was given to the Forest Department for education so that you could take this little egg into the schools and say ' this is what a crocodile egg looks like' but then we decided she was not going to not hatch and decided to pop out and the first thing she saw was a human so she's kind of imprinted on people. I don't think she really knows she's a crocodile, right, I mean, look at her, this is her being very calm, she likes to be held close, she likes to be stroked on her head and behind her neck, so this is the kind of interaction she is used to and she's had it since day 1."
That level of friendliness is what makes her an ideal candidate for the Zoo’s educators to provide their students with an up-close view of one of her kind.
Jamal Andrewin, Environmental Educator Belize Zoo
"She’s our newest ambassador here at the zoo, this is her job as well to interact with people and teach them why crocodiles are so valuable. They are very much a misunderstood species. We know they do, obviously large ones can pose a threat to people but that does not make it right to have them persecuted and killed on site. Again, with all the other wildlife we've mentioned, there are people that are employed, like the zoo, ACES out in San Pedro that are equipped and skilled enough to deal with this wildlife, and remove them safely so it's not an issue for the community or for the animal, so everyone wins in this situation, right. Rose is probably the first crocodile that's been work with so well, to be an animal ambassador; we've done boas, we've done jaguars and so on but Ms. Sharon decided that it would be a brilliant idea to have a crocodile as an ambassador and she's proven to be an excellent one. Just this past weekend, we were up at Chaa Creek's Eco Kids Camp and we took Happy the Barn Owl, Balboa the boa, and Rose the crocodile, and I think there were 23 kids from that camp that had never seen any of these animals so close, and they got to learn about their species. We stress there importance and they actually got to meet them, as well; meet Rose especially and the effect you have on those kids, it's impossible to under say it, it's powerful. As long as they understand that, while they should be respected at a distance, this is an opportunity to meet one up close and then take that home with you; that's a job well done."
Growing at 0.4 of an inch per day, her handlers believe that she will grow approximately 3 feet in a year’s time. So, sure, she’s small now, but what about when she gets larger? How will she continue to be taken around to meet different wildlife students?
"We know obviously that may come a day where she won't be able to be handled but we can't tell you when that day is, but the great thing about Rose is that, our Director gives her round the clock care and treatment and she's worked with every single day, it's a day in, day out routine and a lot of energy is invested in making her an ambassador so it's not just a whimsical thing. So we're confident that she will be in this state for quite some time and will do a lot of good before that day comes when can't handle her anymore."
"What sort of facilities will you guys be preparing for her as she grows?"
Jamal Andrewin, Environmental Educator Belize Zoo
"Probably similar to the exhibits we have now like our ten foot crocodile booth, just a large one that is open so we can still, since she has been hand fed all her life, she can still come up, probably very closer with all the other animals, safely, there'll probably be a barrier in place but something - her story has been laid down so people that have met Rose at this stage can come back couple years from now and see Rose massive and still interacting with people, in a sense right. So regardless, if we can hold her or not, there has to be a barrier, she will be an educator for her species."
So, her life is altered because she will be raised in a controlled environment, where she will not have to fend for herself. She will spend most of her time meeting and greeting other humans. So, what functions would she have served as a crocodile in her natural habitat?
"They’ve been around for millions of years since the time of the dinosaurs, that’s why it's a kick for kids and their main function in the eco system is to balance it. They hunt a variety of animals so they keep everything under control, like the boas with the rodent population, these guys hunt. At the moment Rose eats a lot of cockroaches which people will be glad to hear, I guess. Baby crocodiles love pests, insects, and cockroaches and that sort of thing and when they get bigger they eat anything, there are more opportunities to eat anything that come across their path, so they do have a function in our eco system, in Belize."
In May, a fully grown American crocodile was found in the urban environment of Belize City. Fortunately, he escaped that encounter, when someone did the responsible thing and called in the authorities, after residents gave him a few gratuitous kicks in the rear end. In Belize, there is a culture of capturing and selling them. A few days before that crocodile was discovered on Castle Street, the authorities found one on San Pedro who had been brutalized to death. But behind that is fear and a misunderstanding of them. So how do crocodiles end up in such proximity to Humans, and how should we deal with it?
"We’ve had reports of crocodiles being sold for the same purpose, apart from their skin being used for leather; they're sometimes used for consumption as well. Same concept, equally wrong, they are wildlife, it's illegal to harvest them, hunt the, porch them, have them as pets. Basically we kind of have to learn to live in the same area as they do; their habitat is being reduced as we develop. We're a developing country, there's a lot of development, especially in rural areas and urban areas in the districts of Belize, and so it's just a matter of probably excessive rains, floods, and then coming in from more coastal areas into Belize City which is low line, at sea level. It's natural, it's going to continue happening as long as we're developing but like I said, it doesn't always have to be an issue. Our biggest concern, the reasons we use, is not so much because we only get crocs near here. There were several cases where there were actually sought out and tortured to death. I think there was one in Belize City and one in San Pedro that were on the news and that's the kind of thing we want to prevent. It's bad enough that there is this misconception but to actually go out and hunt them and treat them in this manner is to quote our Minister Lisel Alamilla 'it's not Belize' it's not something we want to be known for as a country for cruelty to wildlife."
The average lifespan of an American crocodile is estimated at around 70 years. We must reiterate that the animal experts of the zoo confidently claim that raising a crocodile in this fashion has never been done before.
As such, they also plan to make safety the first priority. According to Sharon Matola, the director of the Zoo, and her main handler, and if they see signs that as Rose matures, her behavior becomes unfriendly or aggressive, she will not be allowed to interact with visitors as she does right now.