Crocodile hunter

The Crees team have recently been working outside of the Manu Learning Centre (MLC) in the neighbouring town of Salvacion. Here, we have been attempting to compile species abundance and richness lists to better inform tourism-related decision making for the town’s wetland area: Machuwasi. To achieve this the team has had to be adaptable by undertaking new surveys and modifying old ones.

One of the five main survey types that Crees staff perform on a frequent basis are Visual Encounter Surveys (VES), which involve walking slowly along transects at night aiming to observe and record different amphibian and reptile species. However, there are no transects at Machuwasi and part of the journey takes you by boat over a wetland. But, this challenge led to an unexpected opportunity. 

Prior to the start of a VES walk the Crees team boarded the boat and spotted two bright red dots moving away down a side channel of the main wetland. The team decided to put their boating skills to the test in pursuit of these glowing red eyes. Pushing through the reeds the boat eventually became stuck in the mud, however the brave reptile expert of the team jumped overboard onto the muddy bank and managed to safety capture the elusive character we were trailing. Upon closer inspection, it was found the culprit was a Spectacled caiman. 

Caiman crocodilus, which gets its name from the spectacle-like ridge between its eyes, can grow up to 2.5m (fortunately for the team, this one was a little smaller than that). The Spectacled caiman is the most densely populated of all crocodilians with over 1,000,000 wild individuals found throughout south and central America. With a varied diet that consists of all from insects, snails, and crabs to turtles, birds, and some mammals the species has shown to be a resilient and adaptive predator. 

Often thought of as a keystone species due to their ability to control prey populations of areas they inhabit, the balance of entire ecosystems can be disrupted by their disappearance. Although currently classed by the IUCN as a species of “least concern” the Spectacled caiman is often intensely harvested for their hide, which can be used for handbags, shoes, belts, and wallets.

MSc Ian Connolly – Professional Interchange Participant