The Black Caiman (Melanosuchus niger) is the largest South American crocodile and the Amazon’s biggest predator. But despite its size and power it can be hunted with ease and the species has been
reduced in numbers by 99% over the last century.
The wild population is estimated to be between 25,000 and 50,000 and is restricted to slow-moving rivers, streams and lakes in rainforests and seasonally flooded savannas in the Amazon basin. It is now considered to be dependent on human conservation initiatives and occurs in the CTF UK supported reserves at Jatun Sacha in Eastern Ecuador and at Uwasu in Central Brazil.
Black Caiman, which can grow up to about 20 feet (6 meters) long, swim very well, mainly using their tails to propel themselves through the water. They are supremely adapted to aquatic life with eyes and nostrils at the top of the head. Mostly active at night, they hunt for fish, including piranhas and catfish, birds and turtles and even the largest Amazonian land animals like capybaras. Some 75 long, sharp conical teeth are used for catching prey – but not tearing it apart. They swallow their victims whole!
Females build a huge mound nest of soil and vegetation about 5 feet across and lay 50–60 eggs in each clutch. While the eggs are incubating, the females guard the nest and are dangerously aggressive at this time. The sex of the Black Caiman offspring is determined by the temperature in the nest rather than by genetics.
Black Caimans are found in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guyana and Peru with unconfirmed reports from Venezuela. In reserves where it has substantial protection, most populations appear to recover well from previous heavy hunting pressure.
Thanks to Tom Snyder for the Caiman image
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