For many years, the black caiman was heavily hunted for its tough skin which produces shiny, black leather (2). Intensive hunting began in the 1940s, and continued into the 1970s and beyond (2) (4), with around an incredible 66,000 hides being exported from Colombia each year in the early 1970s (4). As a result of this extreme hunting pressure, the overall population of black caiman declined by 99 per cent over the last century and it is now virtually extinct in some locations, such as Colombia and the Amazon River itself (4).
Illegal hunting continues to impact the black caiman, in addition to the destruction of its habitat, through deforestation and the burning of swamplands (2). Competition with the more numerous spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus) may also inhibit the recovery of black caiman populations (2).
The impact of reduced black caiman numbers can be felt in some areas, such as Brazil and Bolivia, where capybara populations, free from this voracious predator, have increased, causing a rise in crop damage. Similarly, an increase in piranha numbers in flooded pastures has resulted in an increase in attacks on cattle (4).