Day 68: The Crocodile Sanctuary
We heard today of the massive earthquake that was reported off the coast of the Mexican state of Chiapas. Oaxaca, and the community detailed below, are quite close to the epicenter and we hope they weren’t adversely affected. Both of these states are some of the poorest in Mexico and are in desperate need of community-focused tourist dollars. They were also some of our very favorite to visit during our two months in the country.
Ben has long fostered an obsession with members of the Order Crocodilia. As a young kid, he dubbed Chris and himself the “Alligator Boys” and for the past few weeks we’ve been discussing the prevalence of crocodiles around the world. Naturally he wants to know which ones are the biggest/scariest/most dangerous. Reportedly, there is an individual in Africa named Gustave that is responsible for the deaths of over 300 people.
So when we found that there was a community project nearby that specialized in reintroducing crocodiles to their native habitat, we were intrigued. Unfortunately, it started pouring on the car ride out there. Ben, alerted to the possibility of a boat tour through a mangrove swamp to spot his favorite animal, was undaunted.
Iguanas: not the reptile he was interested in. Our guide informed us that the females are green, the males are brown.
Ben was also not particularity captivated by Mangrove Swallows or nesting Great Egrets.
Naturally, he was the first to spot a wild croc, in the process of gulping down a swamp catfish. He was thrilled.
Part of the tour included a visit to the island sanctuary and breeding center.
The center digs up wild crocodile nests and raises the babies for six months until they’re slightly more prepared for life in the swamp. Like sea turtles, most baby crocs have low chances of survival, aided slightly by a head start at a hatchery.
Ben perfected the proper ‘croc hold’ as these little guys, though small, come equipped with a ferocious set of needle-sharp teeth.
A pile ‘o babies. These guys were about 10 inches in length and 3 months old. Cute little nippers, eh?
There were also several wild crocs hanging around. This one emerged from the water, an action that had everyone backing up on the double. Our guide informed us that not only are crocs incredibly fast on land, but that they could easily clamber over a short fence. I’m not sure I’m buying that last bit…but I’m also not willing to put it to the test so I’m choosing to take it at face value.
The center was also home to native Mexican deer, which are a bit smaller than their Northern cousins. Emma was delighted and promptly tried to give them all hugs. They were not amused.
Most of the wild crocodiles in the area are known by the guides and have even been given names. This dude (below) used to be the king of crocs until he lost a ferocious battle with an upstart (and the current reigning monarch). It costs him greatly in the form of one eye, a mangled snout, and banishment to the far side of the island.
I’ll tell you one thing, friends: That massive croc was resting comfortably with his head on the bank for several minutes but eventually got tired of the attention and ducked underwater. It was terrifying how quickly he disappeared. We could see the tip of his tail (so we knew he was just under the surface and hadn’t swam away) but he was completely hidden from our view. Just knowing that he was there, however, gave me new appreciation for these animals as predators. And I clutched the kiddies just a tiny bit tighter.
Another fun fact: Crocodiles have no tongues! Those poor, deprived beasties. They make up for it in the tooth department, however.
Playa Ventanilla -Just south of Puerto Escondido, in Oaxaca, Mexico
Look for the ‘white shirt’ guys; they’re the ones that live in the village and can access the island rescue center. Tours cost $100MDX/adult; children were $50MDX. You can buy lunch on the island and any donations to support the rehabilitation efforts are gratefully accepted.