by the Crocodile Research Coalition
During our outreach events, we get a lot of questions or concerns in regards to croc attacks here in Belize. Many people think the American and Morelet's crocs we have here in Belize are similar to the Nile croc and Australian Saltwater crocs in aggression and attacks (due to the sensationalization of many nature shows on TV). Well since you hear the facts from us so much, we thought we bring in one of the experts of croc attacks to provide their knowledge on the subject....
Brandon Sideleau is a fellow member of the IUCN/SSC-Crocodile Specialist Group and co-author to the website CrocBite Database. Here are some facts in regards to croc attacks in Belize, providing the facts and helping us squash the false information about Belize's 2 species of crocs...
"There are two species of crocodiles present in Belize- the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), which is mostly restricted to coastal areas and the cayes, and the Moreletís crocodile (C. moreletii), which prefers freshwater habitat (rivers, swamps, etc.) and is found throughout the country. The American crocodile is larger (in rare cases reaching over 5 meters/16.5 feet in length) but individuals at this length are far less common in Belize due to past hunting pressure. Both of these species occasionally attack humans, but fatal attacks are not common and instances of actual man-eating behavior are rare. This is in contrast to some of the Old World crocodilian species (e.g. the Nile crocodile, C. niloticus, and the saltwater crocodile, C. porosus) which regularly prey upon humans. Unlike these two species of crocodiles, the Moreletís and American crocodiles are more timid and shy, and prefer eating fish, small mammals, crabs and birds. Given that these species are not typically man-eaters and tend to be rather shy, it should be much easier for communities to successfully co-exist with them and experience minimal levels of conflict.
According to our CrocBITE database (www.crocodile-attack.info), there were reports of 163 attacks (resulting in 27 deaths) attributed to the American crocodile throughout its entire range (from southern Florida all the way to Venezuela in South America on the Atlantic coast, and from southern Mexico to Peru on Pacific coast, as well as small populations spread out throughout Caribbean islands) over the past 10 years and 56 attacks resulting in 9 deaths attributed to the Moreletís crocodile over the same period (the range of Moreletís crocodile includes Guatemala, Belize, and southern Mexico). For the saltwater crocodile of Asia and Oceania, on the other hand, we received reports of 1032 attacks resulting in 562 deaths for that same period. Furthermore, given the paucity of reporting in portions of the saltwater crocodileís habitat, it is probable that the actual number of attacks and deaths is much higher.
In Belize crocodile attacks are comparatively rare and in the past 10 years there have been reports 12 attacks, with only 2 of these incidents resulting in the death of the victim. 3 of the attacks (and none of the deaths) involved the American crocodile, 8 of the attacks (and both deaths) involved the Moreletís crocodile and 1 attack (a non-fatal incident near Copper Bank in May 2016) could have involved either species. These statistics are in contrast to the rest of Central American and Mexico, where most attacks involve the American crocodile. To gain a better perspective on crocodile attacks in Belize, the following are crocodile attack statistics from nearby areas over the same 10 year period:
- Jalisco, Mexico: 21 attacks (5 fatal)
- Michoacan, Mexico: 20 attacks (3 fatal)
- Oaxaca, Mexico: 18 attacks (3 fatal)
- Quintana Roo, Mexico: 26 attacks (2 fatal)
- Tamaulipas, Mexico: 18 attacks (3 fatal)
- Costa Rica: 34 attacks (8 fatal)
As you can see, crocodile attacks in Belize are relatively uncommon and attacks resulting in death are rare. In many portions of Belize (and in many other countries) the illegal feeding of wild crocodiles may play a significant factor in human-crocodile conflict levels. Wild crocodiles that are fed by humans will more likely to approach humans and behave aggressively. Other factors that may increase crocodile attacks include the reduction of natural prey species (e.g. fish and small mammals) and the destruction of crocodile habitat/encroachment of human populations."