Crocodiles and alligators (caimans)Most active at night, these animals eat fish and other water dwelling animals, such as capybaras, birds and snakes.
True crocodilians and alligators/caimans look the same, but “crocs” have snouts that are more pointed than the “gators”. Crocodiles also have the upper fourth tooth visible when the jaws are closed. Alligators/caimans avoid saltwater. They are also more abundant.
TurtlesTurtles found in the Amazon River Basin belong to an ancient group called side-necked turtles. The head is tucked sideways rather than being hidden inside the shell. Only about 20 species are found.
The South American river turtle (Podocnemis expansa), also known as arrau and charapa, is the largest freshwater turtle in South America, with shells over 80 cm long reported for some females. Males are smaller and measure 40 cm on average.
These turtles have inhabited the earth for more than 158 million years and have a wide distribution. The species can be found in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Guyana.
Plight of the turtleSouth American river turtles are of biological, social and cultural importance. Biologically, turtles act as indicator species as they are sensitive to changes to their habitat.
According to the Colombian Red Data Book of Reptiles, the species is in critical danger of extinction in the Orinoco while in the Amazon it has been classified as endangered. In both regions, its threat status is a result of hunting pressures.
Fishers irreparably disturb the sandy shores where turtles lay their eggs by spreading out their fishing lines and nets, lighting fires and creating noise with outboard motors.
Riverside communities will also go on outings along the sandy river banks to capture turtles, roast their meat and eat their eggs, not only putting an end to the adult female’s life, but also destroying the nests.
But there are good news from Peru. There, riverside indigenous communities are collecting eggs in order to release them in safety. These are encouraging early footsteps in sustainable management of the species.
The South American river turtle is considered Lower Risk – conservation dependent (LR/cd) in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.3
1Project Amazonas. Reptiles. http://www.projectamazonas.com/fauna-reptiles.htm Accessed 9/01/2006.
2Robert W. Henderson.1994. A Splendid Quintet: The Widespread Boas of South America. LORE magazine. 44: 4, pp: 2-9.
3Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group 1996. Podocnemis expansa. In: IUCN 2004. 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.