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Crocodiles in cancun

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Barnsley, United...
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Crocodiles in cancun

It sounds like an urban legend, but a crocodile living in a hotel zone lagoon in Cancun, Mexico, helped police make a pinch.

The two-meter crocodile attacked Spencer vanWreed, 19, when the Spring breaker jumped into the brackish water in front of a major shopping center around 2 a.m., March 18, 2000, while attempting to elude officers responding to a stolen beer report.

Rescued by his friends, VanWeerd was bitten on his wrists, hands, neck, head and back. Police reported that he was "totally drunk." No charges were filed. He received 126 stitches and minor plastic surgery at a local hospital and arrived home in Salt Lake City, Utah, in a wheelchair.

This is only known crocodile attack on a tourist in Cancun's history. Cancun's crocodiles (principally American crocodiles, Crocodylus acutus) are non-aggressive species that feed on fish and other small wildlife. Cancun biologist Marco Lazcano-Barrero estimates that no more than twenty-five adult crocodiles live in the 5,000-hectare-lagoon system, most of them in areas distant from tourist activities.

Lazcano-Barrero is executive director of Amigos de Sian Ka'an. Located about 175 kms. from Cancun in the southern part of the state of Quintana Roo, 600,000 hectare-Sian Ka'an is the world's second largest biosphere, and home to North America's most important population of American crocodiles and Swamp crocodiles (C. moreletii).

Swamp Crocodile Crocodylus moreletii

Photograph from Eyewire

VanWeerd was mauled in a boat channel facing a popular entertainment and shopping area. It's an unlikely spot for a casual swim as the water is covered with patches of algae and separated from the road by a fringe of mangrove and other dense vegetation.

Although vanWeerd is the first tourist bitten by a crocodile, local fishermen have had some nasty scrapes, but in thirty years only seven cases have been recorded in the Cancun Hotel Zone. All took place at night in the island's undeveloped southern end. Six occurred in 1996 alone, when a major drought caused crocodiles to forage more widely. At the same time, more Cancun residents were fishing in the lagoon because money for food was so scarce.

The smells of the bait and blood and the sound and movements of the captured fish thrashing in the water attracted crocodiles. In at least one case, the fisherman had fallen asleep and was partially submerged in the lagoon.

Soon after these incidents, authorities removed crocodiles that were making a nuisance of themselves in the tourism areas, where some lagoon-side restaurants were feeding them to amuse visitors.

"The feeding caused them to associate food with humans," Lazcano-Barrero reports. "This created the danger that they might bite someone in confusion."

Despite their fearsome reputation, crocodiles are surprisingly amiable around humans and can be domesticated if caught young. Famed crocodile biologist Frederico Medem reported that a doctor in Villavicencio, Colombia, raised a three-meter female Orinoco crocodile from a hatchling. House-trained, it lived in his house and played with his children and the family dog.

Believed to be descended from dinosaurs, crocodiles engage in a two-month courtship before mating and producing eggs. Males and females both guard the nests and will even cooperate in guarding the nests of neighbors. Mothers carry their little ones around in their mouths to protect them. When frightened, baby crocodiles squawk loudly and mom comes running to the defense. Mothers take care of their offspring for two to three years and teach them to swim.

This all sounds like perfect material for a Disney feature, but relocating a three-meter wild crocodile is not a trivial task. In one of the first removals, it took eight burly men to trap a crocodile that learned to beg food from tourists waiting in line at Lorenzillo's Restaurant. They lassoed it with ropes in broad daylight, then wrestled it into a boat and trussed it up.

Crocodiles are a protected species, but it is said that at least one ornery beast was bopped with a baseball bat to calm it down. Local newspapers published pictures of well-roped crocodiles who looked as if they were smiling for the camera as they were carried off.

Today, biologists capture crocodiles at night when their reflective eyes give them away by shining brightly in the light of battery-powered hand lanterns. Once located, the crocodile is trapped by the neck with a special wire noose tied to a 10-meter rope at the end of a 2- to 3-meter aluminum pole.

Brought to the edge of the boat, its jaws are roped closed and the crocodile is loaded into the boat. Its eyes are covered with a dark wet cloth to keep it calmer while researchers rope its limbs and tail. The captured crocodile is then taken to land and trucked in a wooden cage to a crocodile farm or a zoo.

Once an endangered species because of the demand for their high quality skin, crocodiles in the state of Quintana Roo are now merely considered vulnerable.A team of fifteen federal, state and academic experts is studying Quintana Roo's crocodile distribution and behavior to assure their survival despite shrinking habitat resulting from fast-paced tourism development. Approximately 25% of the state is dedicated to wildlife reserves.

Sian Ka'an's continuing crocodile study and preservation program is internationally recognized as a major success in the struggle to save the once-threatened native crocodiles from extinction.

"In Cancun, humans have high priority and crocodiles have low priority," says Lazcano-Barrero. "In Sian Ka'an, it's the other way around. The reserve is their territory and we enter it as their guests."

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1. Re: Crocodiles in cancun

O.0 curious :)

I've never seen crocs in Cancun... we sailed lagoon in a sunfish boat, so I was looking, too.. none.

There said to be a croc living under the satirs/by lagoon of Club Med, which some visitors were afraid of. Sort of a landmark. I don't think anyone got bitten, though. Not sure where it is and if will be there still when CM reopens in summer of 2006.


Barnsley, United...
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2. Re: Crocodiles in cancun

Just keep your hands and feet inside the boat.lol

Just the thought makes me shiver.

miami, fl
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3. Re: Crocodiles in cancun

Yup, there are huge crocs in that lagoon. The one I saw was about 9 feet and very shy. He was by Lorenzillo's where the waiters were feeding him. I think the croc's name is Ricki.

I just don't understand why someone would want to swim in the lagoon when the ocean is right across the street??

Wiltshire, U.K.
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4. Re: Crocodiles in cancun

Where's Steve Irwin when you need him?

Steve Irwin... Mmmmmm (-ish!)

(He's one of those men that you can't help having a bit of a crush on... but you don't know why)

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5. Re: Crocodiles in cancun

There's been a croc for years living down by the Captain's Cove restaurant. I wonder where he is now that they are closed due to the hurricane. Interesting thought.


Barnsley, United...
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6. Re: Crocodiles in cancun

Sorry Lilly

Steve irwin does nothing for me, not even a flicker. lol

Cancun, Mexico
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7. Re: Crocodiles in cancun

There are hundreds of Crocs in the Lagoon they are more afraid of you then you of them that is why you don't see them.

People do not swim in the Lagoon but they do Waterski Jet Ski and go on Waverunners.

Barnsley, United...
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8. Re: Crocodiles in cancun

Hi Cunspin

Is there anyone that does wildlife trips around the lagoon and surrounding areas???

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9. Re: Crocodiles in cancun


Haven't heard of a wildlife tour per se, but you can do the jungle/snorkel adventure through Aqua World. Jet ski/boat through the lagoon and mangroves.

Thanks for your post, inspired me to do some searches as I had heard there were hundreds if not thousands of crocs in the lagoon. What I discovered that I did not know is that there are anacondas too! Yikes!

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10. Re: Crocodiles in cancun

Saw a "pet" croc at Lorito Joe's. Didn't realize anything was there till I saw the look of terror in one patron's face. He? Just came up as far as he could opened his mouth and waited. When I turned back to comment, my dinner guests were gone!

I gave him their scraps.