Tropical Disappearing Act Of a Thick-Skinned Creature

THE black caiman is one of the most endangered crocodiles in the world. The few remaining populations are found in Bolivia, the Guyanas, and Brazil. Before World War II, there were also significant numbers in Peru, Colombia, Argentina, and Paraguay. The species does not recover quickly because of its failure to compete with the smaller and more resilient spectacled caiman (caiman crocodylus), which is less easy to hunt. Since 1976, the black caiman has been on Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which bans the hunting and trading of animals and their products in danger of extinction. The Bolivian Congress passed legislation in 1985 and 1987 banning the export of virtually all wild animals.

According to Gunter Peter of the German Action to Protect Endangered Species organization, Bolivia has lost between 80 percent and 90 percent of a number of species in the last 20 years - particularly crocodiles, boa constrictors, parrots, and spotted cats, most of them exported dead or alive to the West. Aside from the black caiman, another type of crocodile known as the yacare caiman has dropped in number from 100,000 in the 1970s to only 15,000 in Bolivia today.

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