Joint effort turns crocodile from enemy into friend

By Luis Verdín*

Cocodrilo acutus

Crocodylus acutus, with its highly sought skin used to make bags and boots, was considered to be endangered after having been on the verge of disappearing in its natural habitat.  Today, a local population is being protected because a hatchery turned crocodile reserve is now one of the municipality’s most successful tourist attractions.

In a joint effort, the ejido members and the government created the crocodile reserve that they named Kiekari, which means “community” in the Huichol language.  It is located within the La Palma ejido, about 5 miles from the San Blas port.

In the high season, there are about 700 daily visitors who can take a boat trip or walk along the trails among the springs that are located at the core of the crocodile’s reproduction and conservation area.

The ejido La Palma entered into an agreement in 1985 with the environmental authorities and formed the non-profit Environmental Ecology Association to conserve this and other species in the crocodile reserve.

Beginning in 2009, the Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMNARAT) approved a change in operation of the crocodile reserve, granting sole responsibility to the non-profit group.  Ejido members Toribio García Vázquez and his son Jesús Alberto García Álamo run the park.

Kiekari currently houses 47 specimens of C. acutus (25 adults and 22 hatchlings) that for the most part swim freely in the crystalline waters of the reserve, explains García Álamo. During the mating season, the females and mature males are kept separately in cages in order to avoid the females nesting in areas where the eggs or hatchlings could be eaten by other animals, as well as to prevent the males from harming other crocodiles while defending their territorties.

The Garcías feed the crocodiles chicken and fish.  A veterinarian treats injured animals as well as oversees care of the hatchlings which represent the future generations of wild crocodiles.  Annually, the reserve releases about 300 crocodiles, all about one year old, into the wild.

This would not be possible without the income generated by the small fee charged to park visitors.

Currently the association is planning to develop a number of projects on their land where there is a wide variety of plants and animals, including macaw, badger, racoon and wild boar.  This diversity makes it a location with great potential for tourism within the municipality.

*Center for Marine Technology Studies (CETMar) No. 26


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Kiekari, “community” for
American Crocodiles

By Fernando García Araiza*

San Blas is a municipality with a rich cultural history and one where its inhabitants are concerned about the protection of the area's existing flora and fauna. One example of this concern is demonstrated by the ejido La Palma, itself rich in biodiversity and home to the crocodile reserve Kiekari.

According to Juan F. García, founder of the non-profit Mangrove Ecology Group, there needs to be a greater consciousness promoted about the relationship between humans and the environment within the local population as well as with visitors, so that this natural treasure will be preserved and can continue to generate income.

He points out that the ejido’s spring waters at Kiekari come from the mountains and that the highways now under construction obstruct the stream’s flow and can harm both the crocodiles that depend on the springs and the tourism economy generated because of the crocodile’s presence.

At the Kiekari crocodile reserve, there are twenty two Crocodylus acutus (American crocodile) hatchlings, aged about 8 months, as well as one Crocodylus moreletii (Morelet’s or Mexican crocodile).

On a visit to the park, Professor García talked about a project involving the extension of the interpretive trail at Kiekari in order to attract more visitors. He commented that San Blas will benefit from offering new tourist attractions, like this path with signs about the plants and animals found in the wetlands and mountains.

Educating tourists is a basic part of García’s proposal.  García is a surfer from the port town who deserves having been named Green Hero in 2007 by the national magazine Expansión for his work protecting the environment. 

The crocodiles’s caretakers play a huge role in sensitizing people to the reptiles. Jesús Alberto García Álamos, who is in charge of field techniques at the park, explains that the population of C. acutus still hasn’t recovered completely. In contrast, some people in the region say that there are a lot of crocodiles and that they are dangerous because they attack people.

He clarifies that these are alleged attacks caused by people’s carelessness and lack of caution.  He explains that the animals are territorial, that people invade their territory and that they are only aggressive at certain times in their reproductive cycle.

He admits that there have been some unfortunate encounters between crocodiles and visitors to the park as well as in La Tobara, a popular tourist center located between the port and the park.

But, he insists, in regard to being dangerous or there being too many animals: “This is a lie, because the attacks that occurred happened in an area known to be inhabited by crocodiles. La Tobara isn’t a good place to go swimming.  They even have a nightly patrol for the safety of guests.  But the people don’t pay attention, they go swimming.  Another alleged attack in the region was of a young drunk man who was creating a lot of noise and causing damage and in the end a crocodile bit him.”

Manantial de Kiekari









Kiekari’s spring water comes from the mountains

Photo: PECE

*Center for Marine Technology Studies (CETMar) No. 26


"Alberto García Álamo says that his work is very difficult since he has to feed all of the animals on the reserve even when “there is no income.”  Another problem stems from the complaints made by people who attribute crocodile attacks of humans to the repopulation being carried out by the Garcías.  But he states: “they don’t understand that they [people] are in the crocodile's natural habitat, that there are signs warning of the animals and yet they still enter the water where crocodiles live.”






Grassroots Bulletin on Sustainable Development in Northwest Mexico