• Before: Yep, definitely a crocodile.
  • After: It’s multicoloured? And endangered?!

To me, the Orinoco crocodile has three expressions: “Here is the back of my throat”, “I’m staring at a reality behind you”, and wry.

Coincidentally, it also comes in three colours: negro, or dark grey, mariposo, or green with grey spatterings, or the most common, amarillo, which is bright as a pineapple.

Or dark as oven-browned cheese. Image by Eleazar Camero.

A fancy colour range of thick scales, a fearsome reputation, and gathering sleepily in large and mostly immobile groups apparently makes a great fashion find.

Handbags and bloodrags

South America’s largest predator is critically endangered, mainly thanks to its skin, a quarter of a million of which were exported in 1920-1950 alone. Its eggs, teeth and hatchlings are illegally collected for food, traditional medicine and pets respectively, so with an attack from all sides, you can forgive its heavy-duty body armour. But if its armour gives the opposite of protection, how can it be saved? Sex, for one thing.

A breed apart

A group of Venezuelan farmers started their own conservation breeding colony, and the government enhanced the croc’s protection in the 1990s. The IUCN also classified it CITES Appendix I, so absolutely no trade or culling, except for zoo and scientific exchanges. But a baby boom was still needed, and so began the unusual romance of Miranda and Juancho.

To be fair, it had a head-start on “odd”.

Named after her home in a Puerto Miranda experimental lab, breeding female Miranda was severely malnourished. As for Juancho, he was a country house pet that had grown too big for his owners. Luckily, class matters not when you’re a croc, and in their new crocodile farm home elsewhere in Puerto Miranda, the pair brought more than 100 little Orinoco crocs into the world, with about half of them released and the rest sent to zoos worldwide. So why was their romance unusual? Monogamy, for one.

Spreading the love

Both male and female Orinoco crocs like to play the field. As well as storing her partners’ contribution for later, a female can also lay eggs from different males in the same clutch, which she will bury and guard, ferociously, for up to 3 years after hatching.

Mama is always watching. Image by Bernard Dupont.

Good job, because they have a long way to grow – 2.5 metres, or 8 feet, in fact – before they can have hatchlings of their own.

Fortunately, Colombia has released over 50 Orinoco crocs into the wild since 2015, while in Venezuela, it’s over 10,000 since the 1990s. There are also projects to advise locals about their ecological importance, because protecting something possibly dangerous – and potentially lucrative when dead – can be a hard sell in some areas.

Who should really be afraid?

However, reported human attacks are rare, and it prefers to cram its gullet with fish or small animals. The “here is my throat” expression is it literally chilling in the heat, and it’s usually too busy basking to worry about humans, even at the risk of being made into a handbag.

That may sound daft, but don’t forget, it’s from one of the few groups that survived the reign and cataclysmic end of the dinosaurs. Perhaps nothing else has impressed it since, so why be scared of anything?


Latin: Crocodylus intermedius

What? One of the largest living crocodiles, and South America’s biggest predator.

Where? The Orinoco basin, in Venezuela and Colombia.

How big? The largest one on record was 6.69 metres / 21 feet long, but it’s usually 3-4.8 metres / 9.9-16 feet.

Endangered? Yes, Critically, due to over-hunting in the 20th century, modern day poaching and habitat loss.

Probable motto: Our ancestors survived the dinosaur apocalypse. You think we’d be scared of you?

They sound awesome. Do they need my help at all?

Yes. Over and above possible pollution and mining activities in the Orinoco basin, illegal poaching for eggs, hatchlings and skin continues, and while this croc is legally protected, enforcement is difficult if nigh on impossible in some areas.

Once again, it was a mission trying to find any current campaigns for this croccy critter. However, you can adopt one of the Orinoco crocodiles at Brookfield Zoo, with some of your pennies going towards research and conservation efforts. If you’re in the UK, Crocodiles of the World also help fund and look out for crocs and other reptiles around the world. (Side note: this is about 10 miles from my house, so I might pop in and write a review at some point.)

Just to prove I’m not fibbing:

Balaguera-Reina, S.A. et al. 2018. “Crocodylus intermediusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species” 2018: e.T5661A3044743.

Britton, Adam. 2009. “Crocodylus intemedius, Graves 1819“. Crocodilian.com.

Grupo De Especialistas En Crocodilos De Venezuela (GECV)”. No date. Dallas World Aquarium.

Mårtensson, Dick. 2006. “Orinoco crocodile Crocodylus intermedius: mating systems and the potential for genetic monitoring and paternity testing“. Biology degree project, Uppsala University.

Orinoco crocodile“. No date. Brookfield Zoo.

Orinoco crocodile, Crocodylus intermedius“. No date. Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens.

Orinoco crocodile, Crocodylus intermedius“. No date. Dallas World Aquarium.

Rossi Lafferriere, N.A. et al. 2016. “Multiple Paternity in a Reintroduced Population of the Orinoco Crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius) at the El Frío Biological Station, Venezuela“. PLoS ONE 11(3): e0150245.

Seijas, Andres E. 2010. “Orinoco crocodile Crocodylus intermedius“. Crocodiles. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan, Edition: III, Publisher: Crocodile Specialist Group (CSG).

Sigler, Luis. No date. “Breeding the critically endangered Orinoco crocodile“. Reptiles Magazine.


Featured image credit:”Orinoco crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius)” by Josh More.