The Herpetarium staff at the Gladys Porter Zoo is extremely pleased to announce that the pair of rare crocodiles who made a 2,000 mile road trip from Canada to Brownsville, Texas in October 2011 have produced their first offspring.
Weighing in at 63 grams and just over 10 inches in length, “Karel,” as he has been affectionately named, has a great deal of growing to do. His wild counterparts have historically attained lengths of 22 feet, although average length for large males is closer to 15 or 16 feet.
The little crocodile’s namesake is Karel Fortyn, an avid reptile enthusiast who established the Seaway Serpentarium in Welland, Canada. Fortyn passed away unexpectedly in 2011, leaving behind hundreds of reptiles, including a beautiful pair of Orinoco crocodiles, named Blade and Suede. Fortyn had raised the crocodiles from hatchlings; they were his pride and joy. But at the time of his death, Blade and Suede measured 13 and 11 feet respectively, and had outgrown their indoor quarters. Thanks to the teamwork and tenacity of crocodile enthusiasts on both sides of the U.S./Canada border, the adults were transported to their new home at Gladys Porter Zoo in Texas in hopes that they would settle in and reproduce.
On Sunday, March 13, 2016, during a sunny, busy, Spring Break afternoon at the zoo, Suede began to lay eggs at the rear of her exhibit. After depositing them, but before covering them with soil as she would normally do, she began charging at visitors looking on from a distance. Guests were cleared from the area and Suede settled down, burying her eggs later that night. When they were excavated the next morning, only a handful of the 25 eggs laid were intact. Several looked fertile, but only one little crocodile emerged after a long, 96-day wait.
“Since crocodiles typically lay their eggs at night . . . a time when there is less commotion, it’s not surprising that Suede got nervous and broke most of her eggs. She’s a new mom, and this was her first nesting attempt,” said Pat Burchfield, the zoo’s Executive Director. “This single hatchling is, nonetheless, a valuable shot-in-the-arm for the genetic diversity of Orinoco crocodiles managed outside of the wild. We are excited about little Karel’s hatching, and very proud of our Herpetarium staff.”
Orinoco crocodiles are native to Venezuela and Colombia, South America. Due to extensive exploitation for their hides, they are the most endangered New World crocodilian, suffering a population decline of over 80 percent within the last three generations. The species is listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered, and is in serious peril throughout its range. In the early 1990s, fewer than 1,500 non-hatchlings survived in the wild. Some estimate that the wild population may have been as low as 250 adults. Despite proactive conservation measures, declines and fragmentation of the population continues.