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JIS News

Story Highlights

  • NEPA will have media features as well town meetings to sensitize persons about how crocodiles should be treated, in and out of their habitat.
  • Information gleaned on crocodiles indicates that they contribute significantly to maintaining pollution-free waters and clean habitats for themselves and other wildlife.
  • Their burrows, when unoccupied, often serve as refuge from threats as well as sources of water during periods of drought, for other animals.

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) will be heightening its public awareness campaign aimed at discouraging crocodile consumption, which is illegal in Jamaica.

Manager for NEPA’s Ecosystems Management Branch, Andrea Donaldson, tells JIS News it is intended to have media features as well town meetings to sensitize persons about how crocodiles should be treated, in and out of their habitat.

“This is to get them to recognize that crocodiles are important to the eco system, and that the animal is important to them, as people earn income from crocodiles, as an ecotourism activity,” Miss Donaldson informs.

Information gleaned on crocodiles indicates that they contribute significantly to maintaining pollution-free waters and clean habitats for themselves and other wildlife by consuming dying animals as well as the carcasses of lifeless ones.

Additionally, their burrows, when unoccupied, often serve as refuge from threats as well as sources of water during periods of drought, for other animals.

In some parts of Jamaica, crocodiles serve as eco-tourism attractions in special sanctuaries created for them, thereby generating foreign exchange for the economy.

In October 2013, reports surfaced that crocodiles were being hunted and slaughtered for their meat in nine communities spanning four parishes, along Jamaica’s south coast.

These are: Springfield, Westmoreland; Parrottee, Font Hill, and Black River in    St. Elizabeth; Salt River, Lionel Town, and Milk River in Clarendon; and Portmore and Amity Hall in St. Catherine. NEPA also received reports of crocodile meat being sold at eateries in Kingston and St. Andrew, Westmoreland, Clarendon, and St Elizabeth.

Hunting and slaughtering constitute offences as, since 1971, crocodiles have been protected by law under the Wildlife Protection Act. Therefore, no crocodile should be hunted, captured, killed or, in any way, harassed.

The penalty for capturing the animal, harming one, or having any part of same in one’s possession, living or dead, is $100,000 and/or a prison term of up to two years.

Despite these, Jamaica’s crocodile continues to encounter threats to their existence based on illicit human activity, deliberate or inadvertent. This development has rendered it endangered based on the current number in existence.

The population is understood to have declined to less than 1000 since the last survey of the animal was conducted in 2004.  A new survey is to be undertaken during 2014/15 in selected areas to determine the current population level.

Miss Donaldson points to the pattern of behaviour exhibited by crocodiles, which she says persons need to be cognizant of.

“While they live in freshwater systems, they do walk. The females nest in the sand and on gravel mounds. So they will walk from their water habitat to the mounds to nest and walk back. So, in a lot of instances, people see that and they get scared,” she states.

It is recommended that if a crocodile is sighted, persons remain calm as chances are, it will go away. However, it advisable to stay clear of areas, such as rivers and swamps, if these are known habitats, especially during the breeding season, which runs from March to August.

Miss Donaldson also highlights challenges which crocodiles invariably encounter finding adequate food, particularly where these result from human activity.

“One of the things that stresses crocodiles… is the reduction in food. Because crocodiles eat crabs (for example), and if crab hunters are hunting a significant amount of crabs from the habitat where crocodiles live, then that will reduce their food supply. So we understand that people want to eat, but there is a balance we have to take (into consideration),” she states.

Meanwhile, NEPA will be exploring the possibility of creating sanctuaries in an effort to try and provide greater protection for the crocodile population.

She indicates, however, that all parameters will considered in this effort pointing out that “it’s never good to try and restrict crocodiles or any animal to one location because you could cause what is called a genetic collapse, because all that inbreeding would cause genetic problems.”

Miss Donaldson advises that the public education campaign will also focus on other animals whose existence is also deemed under threat. These include: the West Indian manatee, and sea turtles.

“These are also threatened by poaching and by people invading their habitat, catching what they are eating, and by people polluting the water. What is negative is that when the human population throws garbage in there (habitats)…that can cause the animals to migrate outside their habitat and that increases threats to them,” she adds.

In light of this, Miss Donaldson says NEPA will seek to heighten public awareness of the overall linkages between plants and animals to and within to the eco system, and the resulting benefits which can redound to all, including humans.