I was watching a re-run of the PBS program series, Nature, and there was an interesting episode on monster crocodiles. The researcher was traveling the world in search of 20-foot+ crocs, most of which having been hunted over decades either as trophies, for their hides, or in defense of cattle and, in some cases, local villagers. The net effect was that these super-size reptiles were becoming a rarity, if not all together extinct.
Then today I read an interesting follow-up on the Conservation International (CI) web site. CI has been involved in working with government officials in Columbia and members of the IUCN in getting local villagers to help conserve remaining populations of American crocodiles that inhabit Columbian wetlands and mangroves. Although illegal to catch, subsistence-level villagers are enticed to catch crocodiles and sell them on the black market.
"Within the mangrove wetlands, the crocodile is an important umbrella species which helps to sustain the functioning of the ecosystem; among other benefits, crocodiles often eat dead fish, keeping the water clean for the other species that rely on it – including humans."
With the new government-sponsored approach, by locating crocodile egg nests, retrieving the eggs, incubating and raising them in a hatchery for the first year or so, then releasing them later into the wild, the hunters-turned-conservationists are improving the odds for the survival of the crocodiles, compared to how their dwindling numbers would survive on their own. Maintaining a healthier balance in the wetland/mangrove ecosystem means allowing nature's predators and scavengers to thrive, producing a stronger and healthier population of fish and better water quality - which benefits both the ecosystem and man.
Much like what happens when sharks are protected, rather than hunted, in reef areas, local villagers benefit from a healthier ecosystem that is a food source and there is also the ancillary economic benefit derived from ecotourism - crocodile tours have sprung up in Columbia.
Once again, protecting the environment pays off in more ways than one.
Read the entire Conservation International article.