Get ready to learn about one of the world's rarest crocodilians!
The Orinoco Crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius) is the largest crocodilian and the largest predator in the Americas, and is critically endangered. They were hunted for their skin almost to extinction over the course of a few decades in the 20th century, and population recovery has been slow to nonexistent. They can only be found in the Orinoco river and its tributaries in Venezuela and Colombia. Before the population was decimated for trade in their hides, there were individuals that were recorded to reach 22 feet (6.6 meters) in length, but those giants are a thing of the past, and will likely remain so for a long time.
There is a variety of skin coloration observed in the Orinoco Crocodile, and interestingly their skin color can change over time based on the amount of melanin present. They can range from a tan-yellow hide to a dark brown-gray, and while mature animals are not as vividly marked as the hatchlings and juveniles, they still maintain some dark brown or black spots, particularly on their tails. Today, adult males can grow up to 16 feet (4.8 meters) in body length, weighing a maximum of 1,400 pounds (635 kg). Females are slightly smaller at 10.8 feet (3.3 meters) and about 700 pounds (317 kg) in weight.
The diet of Orinoco Crocodiles consists largely of different kinds of fish, which their narrow snouts allow them to catch more easily. But they are opportunistic and not as specialized as some other narrow-snouted crocodilians already discussed in this series, which means that almost any animal in range is a potential prey item. Even smaller reptiles are on the menu, including crocodilians of its own and other species. Though it's difficult to say for certain due to the small population size and the low frequency of interactions with humans, the Orinoco Crocodile is believed to be less aggressive toward humans than other crocodilians of comparable size. But attacks on humans have been recorded.
Mating takes place during the dry season, when Orinoco Crocodiles will spend much of their time in burrows that they've dug into the banks of the river. Gravid females dig holes that serve as nests, laying a clutch of about 40 eggs and then covering them with soil. After a three month incubation period, the cries of the hatchlings alert the mother, who excavates the nest and helps the hatchlings to the water. Hatchlings and juveniles will typically stick close together rather than dispersing, and females have been known to defend groups of juveniles for up to three years, although it's more common for them to be left on their own after one year.
Though international trade in the Orinoco Crocodile is banned, and they are locally protected throughout much of their range, these restraints are rarely enforced. Poaching remains the primary threat to the survival of the Orinoco Crocodile, and very little is know about the health of the scattered populations in Colombia. In Venezuela, however, there are some captive breeding and reintroduction efforts currently underway, but without enforcement of the legal protections in place it's unlikely that these efforts will have a significant effect.
Source for all images used in this post.