'Halligator' Gets Check up at Hol Chan

Pictured above, left to right, are
Kenneth Brown, Arial Sampos and Steve
Platt (holding the dog "Trouble.")
The Halligator is lying down.

Hol Chan Marine Reserve had a very large visitor last week. A 30 to 40 year old, almost 10 foot long, nearly 300 pound male American Crocodile was brought in for a "check up". The crocodile's visit was in conjunction with a research project being conducted by Steve Platt as part of his doctoral dissertation for Clemson University in South Carolina, U.S.A. Platt and his dog "Trouble" will be studying the life history of the American Crocodile in Belize for the next year. Platt explained that Belize is home to two types of crocodiles - the American Crocodile which inhabits the coastal lagoons and may grow to a length of 23 feet and weigh over a ton, and the Morlet's which is somewhat smaller, attaining a length of about 8 feet and inhabits streams, ponds and rivers on the mainland. Of particular interest to the researcher is the theory that the American and Morlet's may be hybridizing in the coastal lagoons. Platt's study, sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wildlife in Washington D.C. and the United Nations Development Project, will take him country wide as he studies the life, reproduction and food habits of the reptiles.

While the crocodile was a guest at Hol Chan he was measured, blood samples were taken, his scales were counted and his scale pattern was noted. The two species scale patterns differ. Having an opportunity to examine the crocodile closely will benefit Platt's research. No one knows exactly how long crocodiles live as there are no reliable techniques to determine their age. Counting the scales, or the sections in their tails is not effective or accurate. Scientists also have not been able to find out how often these large creatures feed. Platt said that when smaller crocs are caught their stomachs are pumped so scientists can check to see what their food sources are. Inland crocodiles have been found with the remains of rats, mammal hair, frog bones and crab shells partially digested. How often the larger species feed is unknown, and pumping the stomach of the larger species is difficult and dangerous. Large crocodiles have a low metabolism and require little food to sustain themselves. It is thought they may only feed once or twice a year. Platt noted that there are some misconceptions about crocodile's feeding habits. He pointed out that crocodiles and developers have much in common - they both like elevated beach ridges and as "civilization" closes in on the aquatic reptiles their feeding habits change. It's easy to get "lunch" where the hotel restaurant dumps its fish heads and other edible garbage. As San Pedro develops there are more reports of crocodiles in town. Many live in the mangroves and are frequently sighted in back of the airstrip area and in San Pablo. The unwilling visitor to Hol Chan was found basking on a bank north of the Boca del Rio in the lagoon. Crocodiles frequently come out of the water at night to cool off as the air temperature is cooler than the water temperature. The crocodile was captured by Platt, Hol Chan ranger Aurial Samos and Kenneth Brown.

Word spread through San Pedro about the crocodile and many people came to get an up close look. The crowd watched and helped lift the crocodile out of the building for a photo session, and then they placed it in the back of a pick up for a ride back to the boat. He was gently lowered into the boat, the rangers and "Trouble" hopped aboard. Steve Platt remarked that returning the crocodile to the sand bank where he was found, and releasing him was going to be another real adventure.

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