When looking at documentaries on television about the big crocodiles or lizards that live in different regions of the world, the average Costa Rican tends to believe that these reptiles do not represent a potential life threat so they safely venture in rivers or lakes where these species live. Ignorance and recklessness are key factors that could prevent fatalities from happening. Here are are some basic and important details that must be known about these aquatic predators:
Overall, crocodilians comprise seven genera with 25 species from medium to large size and they usually spread in the lowlands of tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, Madagascar, Asia, Australia and America. In Costa Rica there is a species of the family Alligatoridae (Caiman crocodilus), known as alligator or Guajipal, which average lenght is between 1.50 and 2.0 m, and a species of the Crocodylidae (Crocodylus acutus) family, the American crocodile, which reaches up to 4 meters in its adult stage.
Some species of these families reach up to eight meters in length and a weight of approximately 1,500 kg. In the water they move quickly by wagging their tail sideways, but when they swim slowly they use the membranes of their legs to be propelled forward. Their habits are basically aquatic or semiaquatic, but they have the ability to move smoothly on land. Although they are primarily nocturnal, they can also be active during the day.
Most of these species are territorial and both females and males defend perimeters or territory extensions in the water where they hunt. In general, these species are opportunistic predators and their hunting behavior consists of slowly approaching their prey underwater and then do a quickly and sudden attack. When the prey is of considerable size, they tend to hold them and carry them quickly to the bottom in order to drown them.
While in Costa Rica only a few cases of attacks by adult crocodiles to humans (alligators do not attack people) have been registered it is clear that these reptiles behave like this only when they are provoked or encouraged to attack. In all these cases the negligence and carelessness of humans is the leading cause of the fatalities that have occurred. Humans are not part of the natural diet of crocodiles, but they can suddenly attack if they feel that we are invading their territory or putting in danger their nests or their breeds.
We are obliged by our ability to reason, to prevent these fatal encounters, and it is vital to make a joint effort with the authorities responsible for signpost the high risk sectors for the presence of these reptiles, with the educational institutions and community organizations to provide education and information on the subject and most importantly, all of us should respect the lives and the space that these reptiles occupy to live in harmony with nature in a country like ours, privileged for its biodiversity.