Local scientists and students from University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences from the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center are leading research efforts to save an endangered species of crocodiles in Colombia. On June 25, faculty, students, and scientists supporting global conservation efforts for crocodiles will invite the public to the twenty-second annual Summer CrocFest. The event will take place from noon to 8:30 p.m. at Everglades Alligator Farm (40351 SW 192nd Ave.) in Homestead. Tickets are $10 for children and $30 for adults. Registration tickets are available online.
CrocFest is held each summer and winter. The day’s activities are family-friendly and geared toward raising awareness and funds for crocodilian research and related conservation programs and projects. It also recognizes the conservation work of researchers.
Funding crocodilian research efforts promotes the survival of these species and others around the world. This summer’s CrocFest 2022 will support the reintroduction of 20 adult Orinoco crocodiles in the Tomo River in Colombia in November. It will also help to cover planned nesting surveys as part of the continued research.
“The Orinoco crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius) is one of the most threatened crocodilian species in the Americas due mainly to overhunting and habitat degradation,” said Sergio Balaguera-Reina, a member of the research team and a quantitative ecologist with the Croc Docs at UF/IFAS. “This project pioneers the use of genetic information previously collected from both ex and in-situ populations to guide where and how to release individuals, thus securing the genetic integrity of the species.”
Balaguera-Reina is joined by Ana Maria Saldarriaga of Fordham University, Mario Vargas-Ramirez of Universidad Nacional de Colombia, German Forero of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Rafael Antelo of World Wildlife Fund, and Carlos Saavedra of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The UF/IFAS Croc Docs, based at UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, are active participants in CrocFest. Each year, they award the prestigious Rafael Crespo Conservation Award. Saldarriaga is being recognized this year for her work with Orinoco crocodiles.
Crocodiles are an important part of the environment. They regulate populations, keep areas of open waters free of invading vegetation, create habits for other animals, and are indicators of the health and sustainability of various sensitive ecosystems.
Orinoco crocodiles are restricted to the Orinoco River basin in Colombia and Venezuela. Efforts to recover the species across its range have led to a ban hunting and the promotion of reintroduction programs, according to Balaguera-Reina.
In 1998, a national conservation and management program was developed in Colombia to outline steps needed to recover the species without impacting the few populations still found in the wild. Since then, conservation efforts have reintroduced individuals in protected areas and have raised the crocodiles outside their native range to support a restocking program. However, there is still a long way to go before fully recovering the species.
“Our current project focused on using the Orinoco crocodile population held at the Roberto Franco Biological Station at the National University of Colombia, as the base to restock populations in areas where the species used to live as well as boost current populations that are fragmented or affected by reduced numbers,” said Balaguera-Reina.
In November, the team will release and track 20 adult Orinoco crocodiles in an area with low to no human presence and where the species has not been recorded in more than 30 years.