A wonderful book full of interesting facts and great photographs of the crocodiles of the world.
Australian author Colin Stevenson has been interested in crocodiles since he was a child. He has worked with crocodiles, caimans, alligators and gharials across the world and is currently working on a revised Action Plan for Crocodiles with the Crocodile Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The evolution of the 27 currently identified species is clearly laid out, showing the major changes over millennia with a fascinating section on the taxonomy of the various species. This is accompanied by a terrific series of diagrams and photographs, especially those in the section of how to distinguish the various branches of the family through the shape of their jaws and teeth. The species with the narrowest jaw are the gharials which are now only found in a few areas of northern parts of the Indian subcontinent and are critically endangered.
The first section of the book provides information on the biology of the wide variety of Crocodilians. While the information is very detailed and uses data from the most recent studies, it is written in clear language and the reader does not need specialist knowledge. Did you know that they have the most powerful bite in nature but cannot chew their food? They also have elements in their blood which act as natural antibiotics.
Despite the animals having a very small brain in relation to their size – 20gms compared to 1.3kg in humans – they can be trained to stay in the water until called by name to come for food. In the Adelaide River, near Darwin, crocodiles have been trained to leap out of the water for food as a tourist attraction. This is something they naturally do in the wild to grab prey foolish enough to sit on a branch overhanging the water.
Stevenson also discusses the dreadful decline in most crocodilian populations. It is estimated 11 million skins were traded from Brazil alone before 1980 and, although hunting them for their leather was banned under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), this has done nothing to protect the habitats of these animals.
A deadly combination of polluted rivers, rainforest clearing for mono culture such as palm oil, draining of wet lands, human populations encroaching on their habitats and ongoing climate change have all combined to drive some populations to the brink of extinction. The population of Chinese alligators (alligator sinensis),which the author describes as small, inoffensive animals, is estimated to be as low as 150 animals. The animal needs sandy riverbanks to dig burrows in. These can be up to 25 metres long and contain underground pools but as people increasingly control the flow of rivers to suit human needs, such habitats have disappeared.
However, the book also contains many positive messages about what is being done to conserve the species and reverse the decline in populations. The second part of the book provides information species-by-species and notes the conservation status of each. I’d suggest the book is suitable for high school aged readers and adults, and would appeal to those with a general interest in crocodiles as well as those who want more depth on the subject.
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Distributed by: New Holland Publishers
Released: September 2019