The Croc Caller of Tecoman

by Susan Dearing

Please click on pictures to enlarge

The newly-opened Crocodile Sanctuary ("Cocodrilario") and its "Croc Caller," Apolinar Espinosa Garcia, make for an exciting visit if you show up on Friday at 3:30 in the afternoon. 

That's when the crocodiles living in the lagoon get called to a dinner of raw meat, and they come ashore--often more than a dozen of them--from the lagoon known as Alcozahue, near the city of Tecoman, Colima.

Apolinar makes a guttural sound in his throat that sounds very much like "croc, croc, croc," and the animals, some as large as 8-12 ft., come out of the water to feast on the free meal provided by the sanctuary.

In addition to the live crocs coming to feed, there are other animals in cement enclosures (some nesting), others paired for mating, and quite a few babies that you can hold for a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity!

There are two kinds of crocs in the sanctuary. American crocodiles are well-armored with tough, scaly skin. They are gray-green or olive-green with long, slender snouts, which distinguish them from their cousin, the alligator. Also unlike the alligator, the fourth tooth on the bottom jaw of the American crocodile is visible when its mouth is closed. South Florida is the only place in which the crocodile and the alligator occur together.

American crocodiles are found in southern Florida, the Caribbean, southern Mexico and along the Central American coast south to Venezuela. Another species at the sanctuary that needs to be protected from poachers is called Morelet's crocodile. Due to the high quality of the skin, numbers of this species were severely depleted by hunting during the middle of this century, and the trend continues through further illegal and indiscriminate taking of skins. 

Morelet's is a relatively small species, usually reaching 10 ft. in length. The snout is quite broad for a crocodile. It has similar coloration to the American croc, but the general tone is darker--a grayish brown with darker bands and spots on body and tail. The iris is silvery brown, and the neck scales are much thicker. The juvenile coloration is a brighter yellow with black banding.

Both species live in brackish and saltwater habitats and are typically found in coastal mangrove wetlands, ponds, lagoons, and lakes. Decidedly less aggressive than the infamous Nile and Australian crocodiles, American and Morelet's crocodiles are shy, reclusive and rarely seen by people. Once hunted intensively for their hides, today, loss of habitat to human development and illegal killing are the greatest threats faced by both species.

American crocodiles can grow to a length of 15 ft. and there is one very close to that size in the sanctuary. 

Normally their diet consists of small fish, invertebrates, reptiles, birds and mammals, and they can go at least a week before needing to eat. With a weight of 150-450 lbs. and a lifespan of 60-70 years, they have few enemies other than man.

The mating season is in January and February, and there is a 2-3 month egg incubation. Each clutch can have 35-50 eggs. In April or May, the female crocodile will build a nest of loose dirt in a mound by the water's edge and lay her eggs. She buries the eggs and fiercely guards her nest. When the eggs hatch in July or early August, the female helps carry her young to the water, but, unlike the alligator, she will not continue to care for her young.

There is a 10 peso entry fee to help support the sanctuary. Crocs, turtles and iguanas, among other animals, are protected by the state of Colima. The sanctuary is manned entirely by volunteers, and is open 7 days a week.

At this time, there are no formal tours, and the area can be difficult to find if you don't speak Spanish. If you would like a private tour of the Cocodrilario, contact the author at susan@gomanzanillo.com. You might enjoy combining a tour of the Crocodile Sanctuary along with the Turtle Sanctuary to see what the state of Colima is doing to protect its wildlife.