Orinoco crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius)

French: Crocodile De L'Orénoque
Spanish: Cocodrilo Del Orinoco
GenusCrocodylus (1)
SizeMale length: up to 5 m (2)
Female length: up to 3.2 m (2)
Male weight: 380 kg (2)
Female weight: 200 kg (2)

Classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix 1 of CITES (3).

The Orinoco crocodile is one of the larger crocodilians (a group that also includes alligators, caimans and the gharial), with a relatively narrow snout and a minor swelling in front of the eyes. It is South America's largest predator, by mass, and males have been reported up to 7 metres in length, although the maximum size recorded in recent studies has not exceeded 5 metres. Three different colour variations exist with the most common being 'Amarillo': a light tan body and scattered dark areas. In captivity, it has been noted that the skin can change colour over long periods of time; this phenomenon has been recorded in other species that can gradually change the amount of melanin in their skin (2) (4).

Severely fragmented populations are found in the lower reaches of the Orinoco River in Venezuela and Colombia (4).

Once associated with a wide variety of habitats (from tropical forests to the streams of the Andes foothills), this species has now been restricted to the Llanos savannah and associated seasonal freshwater rivers (2).

When the waters subside in the dry season, Orinoco crocodiles retreat into burrows excavated into riverbanks (4). Breeding females excavate hole-nests on exposed sand banks, typically laying around 40 eggs. The female remains close to the nest site to guard it from vultures and tegu lizards (2). Hatching occurs 2.5 to 3 months later, which coincides with the rains that bring a rise in water levels, and females have been reported to protect pods of juveniles for up to 3 years (2).

Adults are opportunistic, feeding on a wide variety of prey that are either in or near the water such as fish, large birds and small mammals (2). Data on lifespan are extremely sparse but, like other large crocodilians, Orinoco crocodiles may live as long as 70 to 80 years (4).

The Orinoco crocodile was hunted to the brink of extinction for its skin during the 1930s to 60s and the population has shown little signs of recovery since (4), although reintroduction programs are underway. Crocodiles could be found in large numbers around small water areas during the dry season, which made them easy targets for hunters (2). Today there are an estimated 250 to 1,500 individuals left in the wild (2). Illegal hunting for meat and for teeth (which are thought to have medicinal properties), along with the collection of eggs and juveniles remains the major threat to this species (2). Further threats are posed from continued habitat destruction, killing by local people, and from competition with the spectacle caiman (Caiman crocodilus), which is found in the same area (2).

Orinoco crocodiles are one of the most highly endangered of all crocodilians due to the small size and highly fragmented nature of their population (2). International trade in this species is banned under Appendix I of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CTIES) (3), and it is protected throughout much of its range (4). These protection measures however, are largely ineffective and unforced and illegal poaching remains the principal threat to this species (2). In Colombia very little is known about the current status of the species and this remains a high priority for any conservation action plan (4). In Venezuela a reintroduction/ restocking plan has been developed and captive breeding is carried out at a number of sites (4). Effective monitoring of released crocodiles is required and protection measures need to be properly enforced, in order to help this species recover from such crippling over-exploitation in the past (4).

To find out more about the conservation of this and other crocodilians, see:

Authenticated (06/05/03) by Adam Britton, Crocodilian.com.

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)