Little Ray Leads the Orinoco Crocodiles to a Better Life

Little Ray Leads the Orinoco Crocodiles to a Better Life

We’re proud to share some news with you. We had the opportunity to be involved in and lead the transfer of one of the world’s most endangered species – the Orinoco Crocodile –  from a private residence in Welland Ontario to the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. Little Ray was called upon to facilitate the export of the crocodiles from Canada and worked with Colette Adams from the Gladys Porter Zoo to help with the importation of the crocodiles into the United States.

On Tuesday, October 11, 2011, animal staff and technicians from the Gladys Porter Zoo loaded two enormous casket-shaped animal crates onto a truck for a trip north to Welland, Ontario.  There, they were joined by several North American crocodile experts to develop and carry out a strategy to move two very large, critically endangered crocodiles from their Canadian quarters and bring them back to Brownsville,Texas. The Canadian institution facilitating the transfer from Canada is Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo and is being led by the zoo owner/operator Paul Raymond Goulet.

The Zoo crews are headed to a facility known as The Seaway Serpentarium, home of Blade and Suede, a pair of Orinoco crocodiles. The male is reportedly over 13 feet in length and weighs 1,200 to 1,400 pounds, while the female is said to be 10 to 11 feet long and may weigh between 500 to 700 pounds.

The crocs in Canada have recently been the subject of a great deal of publicity. When Karel Fortyn, owner of Seaway Serpentarium, passed away suddenly in May, his estate had its work cut out for it. Mr. Fortyn left behind hundreds of animals, the most important of which were Blade and Suede. The crocs were outgrowing their tanks, and before his death, Mr. Fortyn had been planning to build them a new facility. But after his death, the need to move them became urgent. Ideally, they needed to move to a southern location where they could live outside for most of the year and have the opportunity to lend their genetics to the small handful of Orinoco crocodiles already in North American facilities.

The Gladys Porter Zoo spoke for the crocodiles in early summer and the work began. An American alligator exhibit was targeted for renovation; a wall needed to be built to divide the exhibit so that keepers can manage them separately, as necessary. A winterized divided barn also needed to be provided, since Orinoco crocs are not very cold tolerant and this particular pair has been accustomed to living in water kept at 80 degrees. Import permits needed to be applied for, and it was hoped that the permit would be granted and issued well before winter temperatures began to settle in.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued an import permit in late September, and the exhibit renovations are nearing completion.  Next week, the U.S. Orinoco Crocodile Team will meet with an equally talented team in Canada, and the process of extracting the animals from their cramped quarters will begin.  Once the crocodiles are secured and crated, the crew will drive straight through to Brownsville to keep transport time as short as possible. This is an extremely risky procedure for Blade and Suede, because when they struggle during capture, their muscles build up high levels of acid that does not process out quickly.  That is why large crocodiles frequently die during – or shortly after – capture procedures.

Orinoco crocodiles are native to Venezuela and Colombia, South America.  Due to extensive exploitation for their hides, they are the most endangered New World crocodilian, suffering a population decline of over 80 percent within the last three generations.

The species is listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered, and is in serious peril throughout its range. In the early 1990s, fewer than 1,500 non-hatchlings survived in the wild. Some estimate that the wild population may have been as low as 250 adults. Despite proactive conservation measures, declines and fragmentation of the population continues.

Learn more about the Orinoco Crocodile at Wikipedia. You can also read more at the Toronto Star and at the Huffington Post Canada . The crocodiles are scheduled to arrive in Brownsville Texas at 9 a.m. on October 18th, 2011. Contact us for more information.