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Interacting with Wildlife: Alligators and Crocodiles

Updated on February 26, 2013
A Saltwater Crocodile in pursuit.
A Saltwater Crocodile in pursuit. | Source

Who is truly being the nuisance?

Animals have been a part of this world for millions of years. While the evolution and “Big Bang Theory” debates continue, concerns persevere about how humans and animals should interact with each other. Crocodilians are such an example because of their robust features which have helped them withstand the test of time without serious complications. This is particularly because they had no natural competitors until humans intervened. Although versatile and rugged, interventions with crocodilians would have been detrimental to the species had it not been recognized and controlled. As urban populations continue to sprawl, continued contact is unavoidable and evaluation of how interaction occurs with these archaic creatures should remain consistent with that population growth. It has become crucial for the benefit of both species and the overall environment that human-animal intervention be carefully considered and maintained.

As one of the closest living relatives to dinosaurs, crocodilians are known for their armored looking scales and an abundant supply of sharp teeth. In certain regions of the world, they are very common and may even be found in many back yards. This is due to the growth and spreading of the human population into the wetlands. Leathers from exotic animals such as crocodilians phase in and out of popularity but consistently represent a sophisticated social standing because of the typically high quality and prices involved. These trends nearly drove the American Alligator to extinction. Upon recognition of a problem, the American alligator was placed on the endangered species list, at which time the population gradually recovered (Rhodes 1997, p. 26). This is a prime example of how crocodilians have struggled as a species while trying to adapt to human invasiveness. Furthermore, this also exemplifies the necessity for humans to intervene as necessary for the benefit of many wild animals. While humans have undoubtedly interfered with crocodilians, the same can be said for the ladder, which have become notorious for their own ways of benefitting from the growing relationship.

Swimming around the notion of mutualism, crocodilians and humans have managed to benefit each other. Thanks to profound predatory skills, these animals help in keeping areas reasonably clean of diseased animals. Rabid, sick, or diseased animals that make their way to the water hole are swiftly exploited. This lessens the likelihood of such animals spreading the illnesses across neighborhoods and cities, if not further, as diseases typically propagate. The downfall is that the crocodilians may also succumb to such illnesses, but do to their tendency to be territorial and solitude in urban areas, illnesses are more likely to remain at that water hole. Furthermore, these ever grinning killers have often been accused of abusing their size and presence in neighborhoods. This accusation comes from frequent cases of vanishing pets. The presence of crocodilians has become so ordinary they occasionally are underestimated, and in the case of crocodilians, it has cost the lives of many dogs and cats. Pets have become a part the interactions by giving their lives and limbs to contribute to the human side of the aforementioned mutualism. These pets would not have naturally been in a situation where they could fall prey to crocodilians. Unfortunately, pets are not the only things which crocodilians will consume, thus raising more reason for the cause of intervention.

Being the robust creatures that they are, crocodilians are capable of eating anything that will fit in their mouth. They rely on the bone crushing strength of their jaws in order to demolish items for sustainment. The jaw pressure can be so immense, that not even turtles are safe from the jaws of these giants. A common occurrence among many crocodilians is for them to swallow rocks. The purpose of this is to aid the gizzard in crushing bones during digestion. The rocks are eventually passed through the system without harm. This is important information to know as the examination of human-animal intervention is continued. Some of the most common locations for alligators to be considered a nuisance in the U.S. are on golf courses, in backyard ponds, ditches, or other nearby water sources within urban areas. Due to the vicinity of neighborhoods or fairways, in the case of golfing, items similar to rocks can be ingested and cause damage to the dragons. The most common items would be tennis balls and golf balls. While the sizes may vary, consideration about the paint and other harmful chemicals and materials on the balls should be considered. This example excludes other trash and debris that alligators and other crocodilians may be tempted or forced to swallow (forced in the event that the trash is swallowed alongside one of their entrées). This also excludes one other common factor which humans tend to contribute to the environment, pesticide use. These things are concrete examples of why humans should be concerned, yet bigger issues still linger.

In recent years, global warming has become a major concern. The idea that there is a hole in our protective ozone is unsettling and fluctuating temperatures and melting glaciers give way to further concerns for people around the world. The endangered polar bears are commonly considered in these discussions since their habitat consists largely of glaciers and arctic living. Regrettably, they are not alone in being affected by global warming. The nests of all crocodilians rely on temperature in order to determine the sex of the young produced. Within one nest, the temperature may vary in a range within only one degree through the entire nest, or up to six (Lunz and Cooper 1984, p. 157). Theories suggest that similar issues could have led to the extinction of dinosaurs (Miller, Summers, Silber, 2004). These scientists hypothesized that prehistoric reptile eggs lacked their current plasticity in surviving varied temperatures. This also highlights the current debates that global warming is a natural occurrence of our planet and that we may not be contributing as much as research may suggest. The issue now is that nests may eventually be incapable of providing adequate temperatures for varied crocodilian sexes. Ultimately, this could lead to a male or female dominated species which would unavoidably lead to extinct without assistance.

Whether or not global warming is natural or induced, humans have a duty as the most capable species on this planet to intervene. In recent years, many wilderness areas have become marked as exclusive sanctuaries so that nature may best run its course. Although those areas are widely left to survive on their own, environmentalists still make observations and act accordingly in order to preserve species of rare plants and animals. For some species, it may be best that they are permitted to become extinct naturally, as that is nature’s way of ruling out un-needed species. However, when it comes to animals, which have become woven into societies as seen with alligators in the southern United States, intervention is crucial to the species in order to protect them from the inevitable stimuli forced upon them as outcomes from an incessantly modernizing world.

Intervention in this modern world has taken on many forms. The most common intervention with crocodilians is to simply relocate them away from urban areas into secluded areas of the marsh and swamp-lands. Conversely, just as with stray dogs, crocodilians which have claimed a life or have attacked a person are typically deemed too dangerous and are exterminated. In order to facilitate demands for fine leathers, meals, and entertainment, alligator farms have come into existence, alleviating most of the stress on natural populations of crocodilians. With their help and with new laws, the American Alligator population was able to stabilize. Future intervention could mean that we need to facilitate the breeding and release of a particular sex of crocodilians in order to save them from extinction. Issues such as these seem to make crocodilians poster animals for why it is necessary for us to respectively intervene with wild animals. In a world this densely populated, where yearly, true nature seems to become a further drive, it is essential that intervention continues on the account that humans are taking over and lifestyles have become obstructive to the wellbeing of the animals around us. Controlled human-animal intervention is a necessary, multifaceted concern which, if done in the most natural way possible, would benefit both parties involved while also lending to greater environmental conservation.

References

Lutz, P. L., & Dunbar-Cooper, A. (1984). The Nest Environment of the American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). Copeia, 1984(1), 153-161.

Rhodes, W. E. (1997, October 1). Conservation of a Dinosaur in Modern Times: South Carolina's Alligator Management Program. DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska - Lincoln. Retrieved November 5, 2012, from http://digitalcommons.edu/ewdcc8/27

Miller, D., Summers, J., & Silber, S. (January 01, 2004). Environmental versus genetic sex determination: a possible factor in dinosaur extinction?. Fertility and Sterility, 81, 4, 954- 64.

Swart, J. A., & Keulartz , J. (2011, February 20). Wild Animals in Our Backyard. A Contextual Approach to the Intrinsic Value of Animals. SpringerLink - electronic journals, protocols and books. Retrieved November 5, 2012, from http://springerlink.com

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