My husband and I had read that there was a neat excursion on Ambergris Caye with an organization called ACES, the American Crocodile Education Sanctuary, where you go out in the evening in a boat through the mangroves and look for crocodiles. So, we signed up.
We met up with two guides, Cherie, who founded the organization with her husband, and one of their assistants, Chris. We started the tour at Reef Village north of the bridge in San Pedro, where Cherie told us that we were in luck because they had a rescued crocodile in possession that they were planning to release tonight. Another couple joined us for the tour, and we all hopped on the skiff and got settled in. Shortly after we sat down, I was informed that the duffel bag under my seat was holding a crocodile. Good times!
We got underway, and Cherie showed us the skull from a large crocodile and explained the anatomy and the differences between crocodiles and alligators. She talked about the mission of the organization (a very worthwhile cause), and before long, she and Chris were getting the live crocodile out of the duffel bag.
Chris sat down with the crocodile and talked some more about the anatomy and behavior of the animal. She was fairly calm, though you could tell she was warming up and looking for her way out. Naturally we all got to hold the crocodile for a while (!) before it came time to release her. Shortly before the release, we took all her measurements and recorded them in the ACES journal. We also gave her a microchip, just like the kind we put in our dogs here in the US. Chris untied her feet, and got her ready to go. We named her Phyllis Dorothy, and then he asked for volunteers to put her in the water, and the other guy on our tour jumped at the opportunity. The release went just as planned.
We watched Phyllis Dorothy swim away into the mangroves. We learned then that you can spot the crocodiles in the dark by shining a flashlight over the water and looking for the red dots of their eyes. It soon became apparent that Phyllis wasn't the only crocodile in the area. There was a sandbar between us and the mangroves, and we could see two or three other crocodiles swimming by the mangroves. At this point, Chris decided he would go after one and try to catch it, and off he went. We all watched somewhat incredulously as he waded over to the mangroves, disappeared inside, and shuffled around. Eventually, we heard a crocodile bellow, and out comes Chris with a new crocodile. He got back to the boat and presented us with a new little guy, who we named Toto.
Toto got his jaw taped, and we scanned him for a microchip. He didn't have one, so we went ahead and took his measurements (54 inches long overall), gave him a chip, and got him ready for re-release. This time my husband opted to try the release process. He failed to account for the fact that perhaps Toto wasn't quite as used to people as Phyllis Dorothy was. Toto's mouth came open as soon as we untaped his jaw. Instead of being lowered down and gently swimming away, he turned back for a thrash when he hit the water. It all happened so fast that we don't know if he didn't release him quite the right way or if Toto was just cranky. Cherie was taking a video, so hopefully she knows what happened. My husband got a teeny-tiny little nick on his finger in the process, which made for a great story to tell when we got back to work. No real harm done.
Anyway, this is a fantastic organization and they're doing valuable work both in educating the public about crocodiles (visitors and locals alike) and rescuing the animals themselves. We highly recommend you take the time to go out on an expedition with them.
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