Jewels get a new habitat
In late 2017 we stumbled across Jewels by random chance while surveying our partners property, Caribbean Shrimp Farm.
As we always do when surveying crocs, we splashed water with chicken to gauge a crocs behavior. Their reaction, or lack thereof to the splashing will tell us something about their interaction with people.
One of three things usually happens in this scenario.
1: Nothing at all. They may turn their head to investigate what the noise is, but once realizing it's people, they show no interest and keep their distance. This is wild behavior and is the reaction we're looking for.
2: They're interested but cautious. They begin to close the distance between us, usually slowly, but they're interested none the less. This sort of behavior tells us an animal has been fed, either directly or indirectly. They've slowly began to lose their fear of people as the feeding gets them accustomed to us.
This behavior is not overly concerning though. The croc is still somewhat cautious and is easily spooked. A capture may take a little time, but the stress of capture if successful will more than likely reinforce any trepidation the animal felt about coming close to people. Next time he encounters someone, chances are high he'll run the other way.
3: That croc comes and that croc comes fast! No hesitation. No fear.
This is not what you want to see. That is an animal that has been fully habituated to people from being fed.
This is what happened with Jewels. She came so hard and fast all the way up onto shore, she forced us to retreat 10ft back.
We brought her home with the intention of putting her in a rehabilitation pond, and through a process of negative reinforcement attempt to reverse her habituation to people. She was less than 5ft at the time, just a young lady really and we had no intention or desire to keep such a young croc. Unfortunately, things didn't pan out how we planned.
She was energetic, but underweight. Not quite emaciated, but she wasn't far off. So we stocked the pond with live fish and left her to get settled. We wanted her to gain a healthy weight before beginning the rehabilitation process. But after 10 days she hadn't touched a single fish and we grew concerned.
Crocs can stop eating for any number of reasons. She could be suffering from illness or disease, or it may simply be she was stressed from the new environment. We threw piece of chicken in to see if she wanted it and she took it immediately!! Maybe she wasn't a fan of those particular fish..? So we fished one out and put it on shore and again she was on it immediately!!
Jewels doesn't know how to hunt.
Over the next few months we spent countless hours watching her behavior and attempts at hunting without any success. We even saw her bite her own tail once spinning around trying to get at fish!! How can an animal get to her size and age and not know how to hunt??
As best we can figure she must have been someone's pet from an early age and she never learnt, and once she got to a size where she could start to do some damage they released her.
We tried to teach her to hunt using wounded fish and crabs, taking saltwater sardines and putting them in the freshwater pond so they'd be easier to catch as they were dying, but it was a catch 22 predicament. The more we interacted with her trying to teach her, the more we reinforced the fact that people mean food. Not that it mattered in the end, for all our efforts Jewels is still unable to catch her own food even to this day. She won't even eat crabs now after one evening when the crabs we threw in for her were bullying her pinching her toes and tail!
In December 2018, we began drawing up plans for a proper enclosure for her next to our home, complete with multiple levels of filtration and aquatic cover. We ordered everything we needed from the States that we couldn't find in country and in March 2019 began clearing bush and digging out the hole for the pond. By the 3rd week of May he new home was finished. We stocked the pond with fish, planted cattails and lilies, and transferred Jewels into her new habitat.
It's now 2 months later and the ecosystem is fully established. The lilies are spreading nicely providing the cover crocs so desperately crave, numerous fish have reproduced in the pond so there's fish of all sizes in there now (Jewels still hasn't caught a single one), and Jewels is as happy as a captive croc can be.