Understanding the natural history, demography, and exploitation levels of crocodilians is essential to formulate effective conservation and management efforts.
Of the 23 crocodilian species of the world, Colombia, along with Venezuela, holds the greatest number of species (six),
and half of them are under some conservation status category1.The ecological importance of these large predators lies in the fact that they control the populations of their prey (mollusks, crustaceans, fish, and other vertebrates), and also because their depositions contribute to the productivity of aquatic ecosystems, making them the fundamental base of the food chain.
On the other hand, crocodilians are the food source of many rural and indigenous communities in remote areas. Additionally, their skin is highly valued in the international market. However, the latter has been the main reason of the decline of their populations since hunting remains uncontrolled. This activity is not yet allowed by Colombian law so it is only possible to use the skin of those individuals of Spectacled Caiman or American Crocodile that come from animal breeding farms 2. Nevertheless, a more responsible and sustainable management of these activities at a local level could create a stable source of income for those communities in need.
The review of 217 documents produced between 1953 and 2015 about crocodilians in Colombia concludes that subjects related to management (planning and normative) and research (bioecology, distribution, and taxonomy) are treated in greater proportion than other subjects, such as use. As expected, the species with greater numbers of publications are those of greatest commercial use: Spectacled Caiman, American Crocodile, and Orinoco Crocodile, the last two classified under some threat category. In contrast, species such as the Smooth-fronted Caiman, which is consumed as subsistence food, and the Black Caiman, a threatened species, have a lower number of studies.
In general, for each species there is more information about basic aspects such as habitat, feeding, reproduction, and type of use. But for most of crocodilian species data is lacking in the subjects of generation times, longevity, growth rates, demography, or degree of exploitation. Similarly, although some studies about population levels exist, more research and fieldwork is needed in order to have complete population surveys. A specific case of ample information and management plans is that of the American Crocodile in the bay of Cispatá-Córdoba3.
For the formulation and application of conservation and use strategies to be truly effective, more information about demography should be available, and, specially, levels of exploitation should be evaluated and monitored. All of this should be the result of a collective effort that involves environmental authorities, academia, research institutes, NGOs, and, definitely, the users of the resource.