Morelet’s crocodile is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2012
Date Assessed: 2009-06-30
Population Trend: Stable
Countries: Belize; Guatemala; Mexico
This species is distributed from northeastern Mexico’s central Tamaulipas area, through the Yucatan Peninsula to northern Guatemala and central Belize.
The species inhabits mainly freshwater areas such as marshes, swamps, ponds, rivers, lagoons and man-made water bodies, but occasionally is found in brackish or saline habitats. Recently, Morelet’s crocodiles have even been found residing in coastal water. Juveniles prefer denser cover for protection, and adults tend to aestivate (a state of animal dormancy, similar to hibernation) in burrows during the dry season.
Females construct a mound nest of fresh and decomposing vegetation and soil, into which 20-50 eggs are laid at the end of the dry season (usually mid-May to late June or early July). Hatching occurs in August and September, when the wet season is at its peak, after approximately 75 to 85 days of incubation.
Juveniles consume small invertebrates in and around the water, as well as small fish. Their diet expands to include a greater variety of prey, as they grow larger. They may also scavenge carrion.
While Morelet’s crocodiles tend to be dominant predators in their communities, their eggs and young often fall prey to older juveniles, larger mammals, snakes, wading birds, and gulls. Humans, jaguars, and large species of constricting snake will sometimes prey on adult crocodiles.
Due to the high quality of the skin, numbers of Morelet’s crocodiles were severely depleted by hunting during the middle of this century. Increased development of their rainforest habitat is also threatening their survival.
Today the Morelet’s crocodile remains conservation-dependent although there are diverse, on-going conservation measures in place for this species, including captive breeding programmes, protected areas and national and international legislative protection.
While this species has suffered population declines throughout its range, it is thought to be widely distributed in much of its original habitat and in protected areas there are healthy populations. This species suffered severe population declines in the early 20th century due to exploitation and was nearly extirpated in several portions of its range, however, after conservation action and legislative protection, many subpopulations are recovering. Recent survey data estimated the population size to be between 79,000 and 100,000 individuals in Mexico. Morelet’s crocodile populations in Belize recovered rapidly following cessation of skin hunting, and the species is now regarded as common, even occurring within urban areas such as Belize City.
Populations of Morelet’s crocodile were greatly reduced in many areas due to unregulated skin hunting, which occurred principally in the 1940s and 1950s. A prohibition was decreed for the region in the 1970s, but illegal hunting persisted into the 1980s and 1990s. Due to severe sanctions, illegal hunting is now thought to be minimal, but still considered to be the principal threat to population recovery in some areas. Traditional hunting of the species persists, especially in rural communities.
Tests on wild eggs of this species show that exposure to chemical pollutants including pesticides may be a significant threat to the long-term survival of some populations.
Est. wild population: 10,000 to 20,000
Main conservation threats: Habitat destruction and illegal hunting