Crocodile conservation in Jamaica
A prospectus for a Conservation Action Plan
Results of a discussion held Saturday 16 February 2013 in Homestead FL among Jamaican representatives Damion Whyte (UDC) Ricardo Miller(NEPA), Leo Douglas (U. West Indies/Columbia U.) and Perran Ross (UF and CSG).
Preamble. The dire situation for conservation of crocodiles (Crocodilus acutus) in Jamaica has been well described recently (CSG Newsletter 31(3):6-7.). Persistent habitat loss, a decrease in tolerance and increased killing of crocodiles, and increased demand for crocodile meat have raised concern about the persistence of crocodiles in Jamaica. The small and scattered population of crocodiles is thought to be declining and restricted to a decreasing number of refuges. In response, a meeting was convened in Florida, 15 February 2013, to discuss this matter in the context of crocodile interactions in the USA and the potential for shared experience, and invigorated conservation responses in Jamaica(CSG Newsletter 32(1):6-7). Presentations and discussions at that meeting suggested six broad areas of activity and this discussion elaborated on each of these with the aim of generating a first draft of a crocodile conservation action plan for Jamaica.
Six areas of activity need to be developed to generate a comprehensive plan:-
2. Public Relations and media outreach
3. Institutional coordination and capacity building
6. Priority areas
1 Research. Basic information on the current distribution and numbers of crocodiles in Jamaica remains incomplete. Anecdotal information, partial surveys and research conducted in other contexts provides a general idea of distribution, but the actual status of any subpopulation, and the population as a whole, is speculative. In 2004 NEPA personal conducted a desk top survey, collecting recent records and experience and examining key localities. However, this material was never compiled or analyzed. A project to re-examine and update this material and to survey key localities again would provide current spatial distributions, allow an estimate of population trends and focus attention on core areas for additional protection. Additionally, information on marking of crocodiles conducted by several researchers and government offices needs to be coordinated and harmonized and data securely stored for access. A country wide crocodile tagging program using standardized tags and marking systems should be devised and technical and financial assistance to acquire suitable tags should be developed.
An additional area of research is into human dimensions to explore the current attitudes and fears of local people regarding crocodiles. This might also explore folk beliefs and iconic values(the crocodile is depicted on the Jamaican national coat of arms) to develop a public relations approach appropriate for a Jamaican context(see below)
Research activity in Jamaica could be coordinated with existing crocodile research programs at the University of Florida (Dr. Frank Mazzotti and colleagues) who have both funding and interest and have conducted several training and research activities in conjunction with local interests. The long term possibility of securing graduate education for Jamaican students in Florida should be explored as a component of Institutional capacity building as well as completing a research function.
Relocation of crocodiles. For many years 'problem' crocodiles have been captured, many marked and then released in locations around Jamaica. Unfortunately there is little information on this program. As crocodiles continue to impinge on human settlements (and vice versa) the whole issue of crocodile relocation needs to be examined on a quantitative basis to evaluate costs, effectiveness, fate of relocated crocodiles and the relationship to habitat management, protected areas and current carrying capacity. The random relocation and 'dumping' of crocodiles will not solve the problem and this needs to be looked at on an experimental and formal basis.
2 Institutional coordination. Coordination among various national (NEPA, UDC, UWI, Zoos) and International interests is haphazard and reduces the limited effectiveness of individual players. Participants proposed to convene a meeting of interested parties in Jamaica to initiate better coordination. Components included
An existing Crocodile Management Plan is obsolete, but could be revised as the basis for current efforts.
The capture and maintenance of nuisance crocodiles as an insurance colony against future possibilities of release and population enhancement should be explored. Private sector, national and international zoos and possibly tourist interests need coordination., permitting.
3 Public Relations and media outreach. This was seen to be a core activity to address the deteriorating public image of crocodiles and widespread public and government apathy. E;lements discussed for investigations included:-
4 Fundraising. Lack of financial resources remains a critical lack in both government and academic institutions. Current economic pressures divert all funds to more urgent projects and only external or special funding is likely to be available. Finding a stable and secure institution to safely hold and disburse external funds remains a difficulty. Possible sources of funding (some already under exploration) include:-
5 Legislation. Jamaica lacks some enabling legislation such as wetland mitigation that has supported conservation in US and other countries. Protective legislation for species e.g. crocodiles, and habitats, exists but is ineffective when not enforced or supported. Communication to Jamaican legislators, coupled to broader initiatives under current consideration such as climate change, forestry development agriculture.
6 Priority areas. The following short list of priority areas for conservation action based on known habitat and crocodile populations was proposed:
Summary list of 28 action items from the preceding:
1.1. Distribution and numbers
1.1.1. Spatial distribution
1.1.3. core areas
1.2. Marking- tags
1.3. Human dimensions- attitudes and values
1.4. Relocation evaluation
1.5. Jamaican graduate degrees
2. Institutional coordination
2.1. National/international meeting
2.2. Revised Crocodile management plan
2.3. Assurance colony
3. Public relations and media
3.3. Educational outreach
3.4. Year of the crocodile
3.5. Radio and television
3.6. Link to themes climate change, wetlands
4.1. European Zoos and amateur interests
4.2. Independent private sources in USA
4.3. US Zoos
4.5. new Jamaican corporate champion
4.6. consortium of private, foundation and conservation
5.1. Communication to Jamaican legislators
6. Priority areas
6.1. Hellshire Hills wetlands
6.2. Portland Bay
6.3. Holland Bay
6.4. Black Morass/ Black River (note multiple threats including peat mining)
6.5. Clarendon area.