Species of the Year 2021: The Crocodile

Beneficials with image problems

Crocodiles shared their habitat with the dinosaurs. For more than 200 million years, the perfect predators have been population our planet almost unchangingly- until man appeared. Now these beneficials with the image problem are on the verge of extinction which is why the Zoological Siciety for Species and Population Protection (ZGAP) has voted the crocodile as "Species of the Year 2021". Crocodiles are not floating handbags. They play an immensly important role in their ecosystems. It is time to act because without acute protection measures some crocodile species will soon disappear completely from our planet.

People continue to find their ways into the habitat of crocodiles and kill them because they consider the animals to be a danger to themselves and their pets. The meat and eggs are consumed, the musk glands of crocodiles are used for perfume production and beacause crocodiles eat fish they are considered to be competitors to fishermen.

In addition, habitat loss caused by e.g. the construction of dams and the increasing water pollutuin are decimating the crocodile population. However, the growing demand for their skin brought crocodiles to the brink of extinction as the fashion industry began to produce handbags, shows, suitcases, belts and other goods.

The role of crocodiles in the ecosystem

Like many other predators crocodiles have an image problem. They are often seen as man-eating “monsters” which is why they are also starring in a few Hollywood films. However, crocodiles play in fact an extremely important role in their environment: Since they eat carrion among other things they clean the waters and land areas of carcasses. When they hunt they particularly target weak, injured and sick animals.

They also regulate the populations of the predatory catfish or piranhas which in turn feed on food fish that are important to humans.

If crocodiles are removed from the cycle the ecological balance goes off the rails. Due to the loss of the large hunters the populations of predatory fish increase and many other organisms such as bacteria, algae, crustaceans, molluscs or aquatic insects disappear because they are specialized on the crocodiles’ leavings.

The negative impacts on  the ecosystems in the crocodile’s home countries that have already become visible, make their protection particularly important.

Conservation projects

Specifically, three conservation projects are supported with the campaign funds this year.

There are only about 100 Philippine crocodiles left in the wild which is why the construction of new crocodile wildlife facilities and other breeding stations directly in the wildlife area in the Philippines will be financed. In addition, a centre of environmental education, for both locals and tourists, is to be created and a concept for sustainable tourism in the region will be implemented.

In the freshwater swamps of Cuba Cuban crocodiles have their small circulation area. The breeding efforts of the rare crocodiles have been very succesfull so far which is why Cuban crocodiles are being realeased under controlled conditions. In order to further study the biology of the animals and to protect them from illegal poaching some crocodiles will get GPS transmitters.

Siamese crocodiles also exist only in small populations in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Currently, another residual population on Borneo is suspected which will be clearified through environmental DNA. Only this way protective measures of endangered crocodiles can be initiated early.

 

Zoological gardens as a driving force in species conservation

Zoological gardens keep and breed endangered species and offer their visitors interesting insights into biological and ecological relationships. Philippine crocodiles are also bred in European zoos. The breeding book is kept in the Zoological Garden Cologne.

The Philippine crocodiles from European zoos are extremely important for the population in the Philippines because, unlike many crocodiles on Philippine crocodile farms, the European animals have not been crossed with other crocodile species and are therefore particularly suitable for the reintroduction to the wild.

Already in December 2020, “Hulky” and “Dodong”, two progeny crocodiles from the Cologne Zoo, were allowed to start their journey to their original homeland. After the acclimatization, the offspring will contribute to the establishment of a pure hereditary Philippine crocodile population, with the aim of the reintroduction to the wild in the nature reserve.

"Species of the year" start of the campain

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