Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government
We will not accept comments by e-mail or fax. We will post all comments on
Any final action resulting from this proposed rule will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and be as accurate and effective as possible. Therefore, we request comments or information from other concerned government agencies, the scientific community, industry, or other interested parties concerning this proposed rule. The comments that will be most useful and likely to influence our decisions are those supported by data or peer-reviewed studies and those that include citations to, and analyses of, applicable laws and regulations. Please make your comments as specific as possible and explain the basis for them. In addition, please include sufficient information with your comments to allow us to authenticate any scientific or commercial data you reference or provide. In particular, we seek comments concerning the following:
(1) New biological, trade, or other relevant information and data concerning any threat (or lack thereof) to the Morelet's crocodile.
(2) New information and data on whether or not climate change is a threat to the Morelet's crocodile, what regional climate change models are available, and whether they are reliable and credible to use as step-down models for assessing the effect of climate change on the species and its habitat.
(3) The location of any additional populations of Morelet's crocodile.
(4) New information and data concerning the range, distribution, and population size and population trends of the Morelet's crocodile.
(5) New information and data on the current or planned activities within the geographic range of the Morelet's crocodile that may affect or benefit the species.
(6) New information and data concerning captive breeding operations in Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.
(7) New information and data on the Morelet's crocodile in Guatemala that would enhance our analysis of whether this population qualifies as a Distinct Population Segment under the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531
(8) Information and data concerning the status and results of monitoring actions for the Morelet's crocodile, including those implemented under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Belize-Guatemala-Mexico Tri-national Strategy for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Morelet's Crocodile, and the Belizean monitoring plan that are discussed under the Post-Delisting Monitoring section below.
(9) Information pertaining to Belize's efforts to fully enact national legislation and/or their efforts to ensure Belize's compliance with CITES.
Please note that submissions merely stating support for or opposition to the action under consideration without providing supporting information, although noted, will not be considered in making a determination, as section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act; 16 U.S.C. 1531
Prior to issuing a final rule on this proposed action, we will take into consideration all comments and any additional information we receive. Such information may lead to a final rule that differs from this proposal. All comments and recommendations, including names and addresses, will become part of the administrative record.
You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed rule by one of the methods listed in the
If you mail or hand-deliver a hardcopy comment that includes personal identifying information, you may request at the top of your document that we withhold this information from public review. However, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. To ensure that the electronic docket for this rulemaking is complete and all comments we receive are publicly available, we will post all hardcopy submissions on
In addition, comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting documentation used in preparing this proposed rule, will be available for public inspection in two ways:
(1) You can view them on
(2) You can make an appointment, during normal business hours, to view the comments and materials in person at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Endangered Species Program located in our Headquarters office (see
Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment—including your personal identifying information—might be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.
Section 4(b)(5)(E) of the Act provides for one or more public hearings on this proposed rule, if requested. We must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in the
Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act requires the Service to make an initial finding as to whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species has presented substantial information indicating that the requested action may be warranted. To the maximum extent practicable, the finding shall be made within 90 days following receipt of the petition and published promptly in the
The Morelet's crocodile was listed as endangered throughout its entire range under the predecessor of the Act via a rule published in the
On May 26, 2005, the Service received a petition from the Government of Mexico's Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad (CONABIO 2005) to remove the Morelet's crocodile from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife at 50 CFR 17.11.
Based on the information provided, the Service's 90-day finding on the petition, which was published in the
This proposed rule to delist the Morelet's crocodile throughout its range also constitutes our 12-month finding that the petitioned action is warranted.
Three species of crocodilians occur in Mexico and Central America. The Morelet's crocodile and the American crocodile (
The Morelet's crocodile is a “relatively small species” that usually attains a maximum length of approximately 9.8-11.5 ft (3-3.5 m (Sánchez (2005, p. 4); Britton (2008, p. 1)), with most wild adults ranging in length 6.6-8.2 ft (2-2.5 m). Hurley (2005, p. 2), however, reported specimens attaining 15.4 ft (4.7 m). Platt and Rainwater (2005, p. 25) stated that size estimates where shorter lengths were documented were probably based on populations that had been heavily impacted by hunting and which now contained few large adults. The Morelet's crocodile is distinguished
Opportunistic carnivores, juvenile Morelet's crocodiles feed on small invertebrates, especially insects and arachnids, while subadults eat a more diverse diet including mollusks, crustaceans, fish, amphibians, and small reptiles. Adult crocodiles consume reptiles, birds, and mammals (Platt et al. 2002, p. 82; Sánchez 2005, p. 7; Platt
Morelet's crocodiles attain sexual maturity at about 4.9 ft (1.5 m) in length, at approximately 7-8 years of age. A growth rate of 0.63 inches (in) per month (1.6 centimeters (cm) per month) was observed in Morelet's crocodiles during the first 3 years of life under protected conditions in Mexico, while a rate of 0.94-1.18 in per month (2.4-3.0 cm per month) was achieved under farming conditions (Pérez-Higareda
An analysis based on DNA microsatellite data from hatchlings collected at 10 Morelet's crocodile nests in Belize showed that progeny from five of the 10 nests were sired by at least two males (McVay
The eggs of Morelet's crocodiles hatch in September-October, 65-90 days after they are laid. Females attend the nest during incubation, and can assist the newborns to leave the nest. Both parents protect juveniles against predators and other adult crocodiles (CITES 2010a, p. 3). Nest failures due to flooding and predation, both avian and mammalian, are common (Platt
The Morelet's crocodile occurs primarily in freshwater environments such as lakes, swamps, and slow-moving rivers, but can temporarily inhabit intermittent freshwater bodies, such as flooded savannahs, and occasionally observed in brackish coastal lagoons (Villegas 2006, p. 8). Floating and emergent vegetation provide cover to protect young crocodiles from predators, including cannibalism by adult crocodiles (Sánchez 2005, p. 7). In contrast to the Morelet's crocodile, the American crocodile feeds mainly on fish and occurs primarily in coastal or brackish environments, such as coastal mangrove swamps, brackish and salt water bays, lagoons, marshes, tidal rivers, and brackish creeks. American crocodiles can also be found in abandoned coastal canals and borrow pits and may range inland into freshwater environments preferred by the Morelet's crocodile such as lakes and lower reaches of large rivers. American and Morelet's crocodiles have been known to lay eggs within the same nest mound as conspecifics, suggesting a more gregarious and tolerant demeanor (Brien
The historical distribution of the Morelet's crocodile comprised the eastern coastal plain of Mexico, most of the Yucatan Peninsula, Belize, and northern Guatemala (Hurley 2005, p. 1), with an estimated historical distribution covering 173,746 mi
Historical estimates of total population sizes in the three range countries are unavailable or imprecise, and we were not able to find any additional data on historical, range-wide population estimates for the species. While not quantifiable or documented by field surveys, Lee (1996, p. 134) characterized the historical distribution and abundance of the Morelet's crocodile in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico as follows: “Throughout its range, nearly every local aguada (flood) has (or had) its lagarto, which generally proves to be
It has been widely reported, however, that by the middle of the 20th Century, populations of Morelet's crocodiles were widely depleted due primarily to overharvest for commercial purposes during the 1940s-1950s. In “Crocodiles: An action plan for their conservation,” Thorbjarnarson (1992, p. 68 and the references cited therein) characterized the Mexican populations of Morelet's crocodiles in the early 1990s as very depleted in the Mexican States of Tamaulipas and Veracruz, recovering to some degree and viable in northeastern Mexico, and severely threatened in Tabasco State and Campeche State. However, populations of Morelet's crocodiles were not depleted in southern Chiapas State and eastern Quintana Roo State (Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve).
Few historical estimates for the Morelet's crocodile in Belize are available, but based on surveys during 1978 and 1979, Abercrombie
Thorbjarnarson (1992, p. 64) characterized the Guatemalan populations in the early 1990s as depleted, but capable of recovery. He indicated that 75 individuals had been reported at three lakes in the Petén Region, in the northern portion of the country, and that Morelet's crocodiles were known to be common in other parts of that region.
By the late 1990s, little had changed with regard to our knowledge of the distribution and abundance of the Morelet's crocodile. In “Crocodiles: Status survey and conservation action plan (second edition),” Ross (1998, pp. 46-47) characterized several populations of Morelet's crocodiles in all three countries as depleted. In some areas, however, including the Lacandón Forest (Chiapas State, Mexico) and the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve (Quintana Roo State, Mexico), healthy populations of the Morelet's crocodile existed. These findings were based on anecdotal reports and incidental records; numerical data were not readily available.
Based on extrapolations of habitat relationships (
Section 4 of the Act and its implementing regulations, 50 CFR part 424, set forth the procedures for listing, reclassifying, or removing species from the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. “Species” is defined by the Act as including any species or subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct vertebrate population segment of fish or wildlife that interbreeds when mature (16 U.S.C. 1532(16)). Once the “species” is determined, we then evaluate whether that species may be endangered or threatened because of one or more of the five factors described in section 4(a)(1) of the Act. We must consider these same five factors in reclassifying or delisting a species. For species that are already listed as endangered or threatened, the analysis of threats must include an evaluation of both the threats currently facing the species, and the threats that are reasonably likely to affect the species in the foreseeable future following the delisting or downlisting and the removal or reduction of the Act's protections. We may delist a species according to 50 CFR 424.11(d) if the best available scientific and commercial data indicate that the species is neither endangered nor threatened for the following reasons: (1) The species is extinct; (2) the species has recovered and is no longer endangered or threatened; and/or (3) the original scientific data used at the time the species was classified were in error.
The overharvest for commercial purposes, rather than habitat destruction or modification, was the primary reason for the Morelet's crocodile being listed under the Act and its inclusion in CITES. However, the Five Factor Analysis under the Act requires an analysis of current and future potential impacts to the species based on modification or destruction of habitat.
The petition (CONABIO 2005) highlights habitat degradation as a potential threat, especially if it involves lack of prey and eventual contamination of water bodies. Currently, the extent of habitat degradation is estimated to be moderate in Mexico and Belize, and slightly higher in northern Petén, Guatemala (CONABIO 2005, Annex 1, p. 10). However, as stated previously, historical estimates of range-wide habitat destruction for the Morelet's crocodile are unavailable or imprecise. We found that the data on habitat destruction was primarily presented separately for each individual country. Therefore, the following analysis of the potential threats to the species from habitat destruction or modification first presents the specific information available for the Morelet's crocodile in each country, and then presents the general information that was available for the species as a whole.
The Morelet's crocodile is known historically from 10 states in Mexico (from east to west): Quintana Roo, Yucatán, Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Hidalgo, San Luis Potosí, and Tamaulipas (Águilar 2005, p. 2). Based on available information and interviews during a 1995 site visit to Mexico by the IUCN Crocodile Specialist Group, Ross (1998, p. 13) suggested “with some confidence” that the Morelet's crocodile was widely distributed throughout most of its original range. At the request of the petitioner, these states were resurveyed to assess current Morelet's crocodile populations in those areas.
Surveys conducted between 2000 and 2004 documented the widespread distribution and relative abundance of wild populations of the Morelet's crocodile in Mexico (Domínguez-Laso
Population characteristics of the Morelet's crocodiles in Mexico were also determined during the 2000-2004 field surveys. All age classes were well represented (34 percent juveniles; 47 percent subadults; and 19 percent adults), indicating good recruitment (Domínguez-Laso
New information now available to the Service documents updates in the geographic distribution of the Morelet's crocodile in Mexico. Because of several unauthorized introductions or escapes from captive-breeding facilities in areas outside of the reported range of the species, the Morelet's crocodile has become established in the wild at three sites: Chacahua, Oaxaca State; Villa Flores, Chiapas State; and Laguna de Alcuzahue, Colima State (Álvarez Romero
According to the information presented in CONABIO 2005, the Morelet's crocodile in Mexico occupies at least 12 protected areas (CONABIO 2005, p. 30 and Annex 6). Part of the Sistema Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (SINANP or National System of Protected Natural Areas, described more fully in the Factor D section, Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms), encompasses 13 percent of the species' range and include the following areas: Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve, Pantanos de Centla Biosphere Reserve, Laguna de Términos Biosphere Reserve, Hampolol Wildlife Conservation and Research Center, El Palmar State Preserve, Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, Yum Balam Biosphere Reserve, Laguna Nichupte, Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, Bahia Chetumal (Bay) and Río Hondo (River).
The Government of Mexico's 2010 CITES proposal to transfer the Morelet's crocodile from CITES Appendix I to CITES Appendix II provided updated information on the number of protected areas for the Morelet's crocodile in Mexico. About 77 Federal and certified protected areas in Mexico provide shelter and legal protection to the Morelet's crocodile in its potential range. Of these, 11 have records of the species covering 7,763,147 acres (ac) (3,141,634 hectares (ha)) (CITES 2010a, pp. 11, 17-20). The Government of Mexico designated eight of the eleven protected areas containing Morelet's crocodiles as Biosphere Reserves, and the three remaining protected areas containing Morelet's crocodiles as Flora and Fauna Protection Areas. As stated above, these protected areas are part of SINANP (described more fully in the Factor D section, Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms).
The Government of Mexico's 2010 CITES proposal used both a narrative description (CITES 2010a, p. 11) and a list (CITES 2010a, pp. 17-20) to indicate that there are 11 federally protected areas in Mexico containing Morelet's crocodile. CONABIO 2005 used a narrative description (CONABIO 2005, p. 30) to indicate that there are at least 12 federally protected areas in Mexico containing Morelet's crocodile (CONABIO 2005, p. 30), but did not include a list of the federally protected areas. Based on the information available to the Service, we were unable to find any additional data to explain the difference between in the numbers of federally protected areas cited in these two documents. The Government of Mexico's 2010 CITES proposal is the more recent document, and we consider it to contain the best available scientific and commercial data on the number of federally protected areas in Mexico.
The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (also known as the Ramsar Convention) is an intergovernmental treaty that provides a framework for international cooperation for the conservation of wetland habitats. CONABIO 2005 did not provide information on whether the Ramsar Convention protects any Morelet's crocodile habitat in Mexico. However, this information was included in the Government of Mexico's 2010 CITES proposal. According to their 2010 CITES proposal, there are 41 Ramsar sites in the potential range of the Morelet's crocodile in Mexico, 13 of which have records of the species covering 6,779,875 ac (2,743,718 ha) (CITES 2010a, pp. 11, 17-20).
According to the information presented in CONABIO 2005, one of the main potential threats to the Morelet's crocodile is habitat destruction and fragmentation due to residential and infrastructure development, such as dams, roads, residential areas, and irrigated fields (CONABIO 2005, Annex 2, pp. 4-5). The information presented in CONABIO 2005 indicated that land reform and the ensuing colonization of undeveloped areas is a potential threat to the Morelet's crocodile, but the Government of Mexico has no such actions planned at this time (CONABIO 2005, p. 33). This threat of habitat degradation is ameliorated in Mexico by the Ley General de Equilibrio Ecológico y Protección al Ambiente (LGEEPA; General Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection Law). This 1988 law has strict restrictions against land use changes in Mexico, especially for undisturbed habitat such as those areas used by the Morelet's crocodile (CONABIO 2005, p. 25). This law is supported by several others in Mexico
According to the information presented by CONABIO, even in the historic context of prolonged habitat alteration, wild populations of Morelet's crocodiles remained abundant; so much so that large, commercial exploitation of the species was occurring up until Federal and international protections were put in place 40 years ago. Alteration of Morelet's crocodile habitat occurring since then may have produced some additional reductions in local populations, but these reductions are not comparable to those of the past. In addition, even in areas where changes to the original environment are not reversible, evidence points to a certain degree of tolerance by Morelet's crocodiles, especially when the habitat alterations are a result of agriculture or low technology livestock production (CONABIO 2005, p. 25).
Based on surveys, it appears that the Morelet's crocodile in Mexico occurs in all 10 states from where it traditionally has been reported (CONABIO 2005, pp. 11-19). Although approximately 49 percent of the original range in Mexico has been altered, much of the altered habitat is still occupied by the Morelet's crocodile. Approximately 77,220 mi
We find that the information presented in the petition, as well as the additional information available to the Service, represents the best available scientific and commercial data on habitat destruction or modification for Morelet's crocodiles in Mexico. Although moderate habitat destruction or modification is currently affecting local populations of Morelet's crocodiles in Mexico, and this is likely to continue in the foreseeable future, these activities would not have a significant impact on the species because they would be subject to conservation measures under the Government of Mexico's regulatory framework. This framework will continue to provide adequate protection to the Morelet's crocodile and its habitat in the foreseeable future. Surveys conducted found Morelet's crocodiles at 63 sites across all 10 Mexican states comprising the species' entire historic range in Mexico (CONABIO 2005, p. 12). Given that Mexico contains more than 85 percent of the species' natural range, an estimated 78 percent of all wild individuals, that 7,763,147 ac (3,141,634 ha) of habitat are protected by the Government of Mexico, and that 6,779,875 ac (2,743,718 ha) of habitat are protected by the Ramsar Convention, we conclude that habitat destruction or modification is neither a threat, nor is it anticipated to significantly impact the Morelet's crocodile in Mexico in the foreseeable future.
The Morelet's crocodile was historically known from all six states in Belize (from north to south): Corozal, Orange Walk, Belize, Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo (Anonymous 1998). According to information provided by CONABIO, virtually all of the country contained suitable habitat for the species. The style of economic development in Belize has not required massive alteration of the natural environment. Thus, in general, no extensive and drastic alteration of Morelet's crocodile habitat has occurred in Belize (CONABIO 2005, p. 26). The current amount of altered versus unaltered current habitat for the Morelet's crocodile in Belize is unknown, but the petitioners estimated the current amount of potentially suitable habitat to be approximately 2,050 mi (3,300 km) of shoreline (CONABIO 2005, pp.14-19).
While the species is widespread in the northern portion of the country, it is naturally limited to a narrow region of lowlands along the coast in the southern part of Belize, which is otherwise mountainous (Schmidt 1924, p. 80; Abercrombie
Earlier comparisons between spotlight surveys conducted in northern Belize in 1979-1980 and 1992-1997 also showed that Morelet's crocodiles were widely distributed and relatively abundant across several habitat types and levels of human accessibility (Platt and Thorbjarnarson 2000b, p. 23). In addition to an extensive system of nature reserves including significant areas of crocodile habitat, these researchers noted relatively high Morelet's crocodile encounter rates in wetlands surrounding sugarcane fields in this area. Morelet's crocodiles were observed in canals and ditches within the municipal limits of Belize City and Orange Walk, as well as in wetlands easily accessible from many villages (Platt and Thorbjarnarson 2000b, p. 23).
Population characteristics of Morelet's crocodiles in Belize were also determined during these surveys. Size class distribution—25.4 percent adults in the 1990s, compared with 5-10 percent in an earlier study—was consistent with population recovery from past overexploitation (Platt and Thorbjarnarson 2000b, p. 24). Platt and Thorbjarnarson (2000b, pp. 23, 26) reported an overall frequency of encounter of 1.56 individuals per km; encounter rates were much higher in
CONABIO did not present information about the distribution and abundance of the Morelet's crocodile in protected areas in Belize. Other information obtained by the Service, however, suggests that the species is present in many protected areas in Belize, including: Sarstoon Temash National Park (Meerman
We find that the data presented by CONABIO, and additional data available to the Service, represents the best available scientific and commercial data on habitat destruction or modification for Morelet's crocodiles in Belize. Although habitat destruction or modification is currently affecting some local populations of Morelet's crocodiles in Belize, and this is likely to continue in the foreseeable future, we do not have any evidence that habitat destruction or modification is currently or anticipated to be a threat to the Morelet's crocodile in Belize.
The Morelet's crocodile was historically known from the northern portion of Guatemala (States of Petén and Alta Verapaz; Schmidt 1924, pp. 79-84). According to information provided by CONABIO, the Petén region of Guatemala was scarcely populated by humans before 1960 (an estimated 15,000 to 21,000 inhabitants in approximately 12,960 square miles (33,566 km²) or about one third of Guatemala's area) (CONABIO 2005). In 1961, the Government of Guatemala started an official program to foster colonization in the region, and this caused environmental alteration, as well as increased human conflicts with crocodiles. Slightly more than 50 percent of the potential habitat for the Morelet's crocodile has been altered in Guatemala (CONABIO 2005, p. 26). While the current amount of altered versus unaltered habitat for the Morelet's crocodile in Guatemala is unknown, the petitioners estimated the current amount of potentially suitable habitat to be approximately 4,163 mi (6,700 km) of shoreline (CONABIO 2005, pp.14-19). According to information provided by CONABIO, studies on the status of Morelet's crocodile habitat and population in Guatemala are underway, and the potential threats to the species are under assessment (CONABIO 2005, p. 26).
Recent nationwide survey results are not available for Guatemala, but populations appear to remain in their historical range in the northern part of the country, especially the central portion of the State of Petén, Laguna del Tigre National Park (northwestern portion of the State of Petén) (Castañeda Moya
While information regarding the distribution and abundance of Morelet's crocodile in Guatemala is sparse, investigations conducted in Laguna del Tigre National Park (date unspecified, reported in 1998) estimated 4.35 individuals per km in the Sacluc River and 2.1 individuals per km in the San Pedro River, with a population structure typical of stable populations (Castañeda Moya 1998a, p. 13). Castañeda Moya (1997, p. 1; 1998a, p. 521) characterized Morelet's crocodile distribution in the northern State of Petén, Guatemala, as fragmented, with the healthiest populations in the northern region of Petén, where human impact was lower. In a follow-up study at Laguna del Tigre National Park Castañeda Moya
Based on extrapolations of habitat relationships in Mexico (which resulted in an estimated 4,159.8 mi (6,694.5 km) of potential habitat in Guatemala) and an average frequency of encounter of 2.078 individuals per km, CONABIO stated that there is an estimated total Guatemalan population of Morelet's crocodile of about 13,911 individuals in the wild (all age classes) comprising 13 percent of the total wild population, including about 2,643 adults (CONABIO 2005, p. 18). Although this is not a typically constructed population estimate, this population estimate constitutes the best available scientific and commercial data for the nationwide abundance of Morelet's crocodiles in Guatemala.
While Guatemala has regulatory mechanisms in place to protect these habitats, it appears that the Government of Guatemala, until recently, was not able to enforce them adequately. Resource extraction, drug trade, a lack of enforcement, and financial issues limited protected areas' potential contribution to the conservation status of the Morelet's crocodile (IARNA URL IIA 2006, pp. 88-92). For example, the Laguna del Tigre National Park, together with the Laguna del Tigre Protected Biotope, was considered critically threatened by drug trade, land grabs, the presence of human settlements, expanding agriculture and cattle
For the past ten years, USAID and WCS having been working with other NGOs and the Guatemalan government to combat these issues. In their “Maya Biosphere Landscape Conservation Area, Guatemala, Implementation Plan FY 2008” (WCS 2009, page 3) the WCS highlighted their central goals for ensuring the conservation of wide-ranging target species, including the Morelet's crocodile, was to contain the advance of the Laguna del Tigre agro-pastoral frontier and maintain the comparatively intact eastern bloc of the Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) forest. Strategies to reduce impacts to wildlife in the MBR landscape include involving people in local communities, forest concessions, governments, and NGOs in local conservation efforts; developing adaptive management strategies to address tactically threats across the landscape; and educating local communities on best management practices across the MBR and beyond. Since 2003, however, efforts by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have reduced areas burned in the MBR in Guatemala. Through educating locals on best management practices, conducting aerial flights, utilizing remote sensing to monitor changes in forest cover and fire, and establishing and patrolling a 47-kilometer fire break, along with regularly reporting to the Guatemalan and provincial governments and national media, WCS's efforts have resulted in a 90% reduction in areas burned in the Laguna del Tigre portion of the MBR (WCS 2009).
In addition, the president of Guatemala recently deployed 250 specially trained soldiers to recover fully all the protected zones of El Peten in Laguna del Tigre National Park. The contingent, called the “green battalion” will work jointly with the Guatemalan Attorney General's Office. This effort is aimed at combating drug trafficking and removal or destruction of natural and archeological resources in Laguna del Tigre, El Peten region of the MBR (Latin American Herald Tribune, 2010).
El Mirador-Río Azul National Park in northeastern Guatemala is located in the department of Petén maintains a population of Morelet's crocodiles (ParksWatch 2002, page 3). The park is composed of two sections, which are divided by the Dos Lagunas Biotope. The western section is known as El Mirador and the eastern part is known as Río Azul. This area is considered by World Resources Institute to be the last pristine Guatemalan rainforest. It is also one of the few protected areas that have experienced little deforestation over the years. No permanent human residents live within the park borders or in its immediate surrounding areas. El Mirador-Río Azul National Park is considered
While CONABIO estimated that slightly more than 50 percent of the potential habitat for the Morelet's crocodile has been altered in Guatemala, they gave no information indicating to what extent (CONABIO 2005, p. 26). Very little information has been collected about the consequences of forest fires, hunting, and habitat fragmentation to the Morelet's crocodile. However, Mexico saw the presence of the Morelet's crocodile in cultivated areas and at sites with “intermediate” quality habitats (CONABIO 2005, p. 13) and Belize noted relatively high Morelet's crocodile encounter rates in wetlands surrounding sugarcane fields, canals and ditches within the municipal limits of Belize (Platt and Thorbjarnarson 2000b, p. 23). This information suggests that the Morelet's crocodile does not require undisturbed habitat in order to occupy a site. The current amount of altered versus unaltered habitat for the Morelet's crocodile in Guatemala is unknown, but the petitioners estimated the current amount of potentially suitable habitat to be approximately 4,163 mi (6,700 km) of shoreline (CONABIO 2005, pp.14-19).
Nonconsumptive recreational or educational uses in the form of ecotourism are ongoing and may grow in magnitude in the future. While CONABIO did not present precise information about the number of companies or sites visited by tourists, an informal Internet search suggested that large numbers of ecotourism companies and nature sites in all three range countries were involved in this activity. At Tikal National Park in Guatemala, for example, the number of visitors has increased from 14,594 visitors in 1981 to 141,899 visitors in 2002 (IARNA URL IIA 2006, p. 103). Many of these visitors potentially visited Morelet's crocodile areas in the Petén Region that are in the immediate vicinity of the park as part of their ecotourism experience.
While we cannot completely rule out the potential for adverse effects to the Morelet's crocodile due to disturbance
(1) Habitat loss;
(2) Alteration of surface and underground water flow;
(3) Ground water pollution;
(4) Extraction of resources;
(5) Erosion and sedimentation;
(6) Decrease in biodiversity; and
(7) Reduced traditional and recreational use for local communities.
Visual pollution, including trash, as well as “jeep safaris” (caravans of small convertible sports utility vehicles being driven through the reserve) and boat traffic, is also increasing at Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve (Mazzotti
There is also evidence that ecotourism, as well as scientific research and wildlife conservation, are compatible activities with respect to the Morelet's crocodile. In Mexico, for example, ecotourists accompany biologists associated with the Amigos de Sian Ka'an group as they conduct surveys of the Morelet's crocodile at Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, along the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Quintana Roo State (EcoColors Tours 2010, pp. 1). At another site, the La Ventanilla Eco-tourism Project in Oaxaca State, Mexico, international volunteers assist local residents and biologists to conserve the Morelet's crocodile, turtles, iguanas, and other species of wildlife (Volunteers for International Partnership—Mexico 2010, 1-4). In Belize, tourists, as well as wildlife researchers from the United States and their Belizean counterparts, are implementing an ecological field study of the Morelet's crocodile at Lamanai Outpost Lodge and Research Station that eventually will lead to the development of a national management plan for the species (The Croc Docs 2010, pp. 1-6). If the biological data, in part collected by the ecotourists, support harvest, and effective enforcement regulations can be developed and implemented, this plan may include commercial exploitation of the Morelet's crocodile. In Guatemala, scientists and ecotourists are working cooperatively with the ProPetén group to undertake conservation work at the Scarlet Macaw Biological Station in the Maya Biosphere Reserve (ProPeten 2009, p. 1). While these activities differ with regard to specific details, in general they provide positive conservation benefits to the Morelet's crocodile and demonstrate that ecotourism, as well as scientific research and wildlife conservation, can be compatible with respect to the species.
Agriculture, grazing, and infrastructure development (such as dams, roads, residential areas, and irrigated fields) generally are indirect impacts in that the purpose of the action is not focused on the crocodile. These activities can be either consumptive (for example, destruction of nests and eggs by machinery) or nonconsumptive (for example, loss of access to traditional nesting or feeding sites), and are generally manifested through habitat loss or fragmentation. Depending on the nature and extent of these activities, they may have a substantial negative impact on local Morelet's crocodile populations. Although agriculture, grazing, and infrastructure development are currently affecting local populations of Morelet's crocodiles, and this is likely to continue in the foreseeable future, we do not have any evidence that these activities are currently or anticipated to be a range-wide threat to the Morelet's crocodile.
Although some habitat degradation has occurred in Mexico, this threat is ameliorated by the LGEEPA. This law has strict restrictions against land use changes in Mexico, especially for undisturbed habitat such as those areas used by the Morelet's crocodile (CONABIO 2005, p. 25). The Sistema Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (SINANP) also provides significant habitat protection in Mexico. The SINANP created designated protected areas because these areas contain key or representative ecosystems or species, or ecosystems or species that are at risk and require strict control. In Mexico, at least 11 protected areas contain populations of the Morelet's crocodile (CITES 2010a, pp. 17-20). In Belize, at least three protected areas contai