National Geographic : 1978 Jan
By RICK GORE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC STAFF Photographs by JONATHAN BLAIR young, this female ferries them to a near by pond nursery in a pouch that forms only after she hears her babies chirping. They're not cuddly. They don't have big soul ful eyes like seals. Most of the animals the world is concernedwith are beautiful,or they tug at your heartstrings. Crocodiles have a pretty toothy leer. They eat dogs in Florida sometimes even people. Who could love them? - WAYNE KING, NEW YORK ZOOLOGICAL SOCIETY CROCODILES are disappearing rapid ly from the earth. In Niger a river swamp is drained to grow vegetables for Europe, and in three years its crocs are gone. In 1967 on Paris's Rue du Faubourg St.-Honore, a wealthy American pays $7,500 for a portable bar covered with saltwater crocodile skin. Meanwhile adven turers shoot forty crocs a night out of the Liverpool River in northern Australia. The crocodilians have been around for nearly 200 million years. There are 21 species of them, including the American alligator. They have seen continents shift and have per sisted through the worst of many ice ages. Yet in just thirty years, massive hunting and habitat destruction have decimated every member of this ancient order, Crocodilia. Although stringent laws have closed down most of the United States market, as many as two million crocodilian hides a year are still trafficked worldwide. Some experts warn that no crocodilian except the American alli gator may survive in the wild much beyond century's end. Others are less gloomy. Under pressure from wildlife groups, most nations have at least removed their crocodilians from the ver min category. Some are actually coming to value those crocs they have left. Scientists, too, have begun to look carefully at crocodilians. This is difficult. Crocs live in isolated, unpleasant places. They disappear at the wink of a wading stork's eye. And they spend most of their time doing nothing. But when they do act, they are magnificent and, we are learning, deeply interesting. Crocodiles survived while their close kin the dinosaurs died out. Croc brains are far more complex than those of other reptiles. They learn readily. Crocodile hearts are al most as advanced as those of birds and mam mals. In fact, their closest living relatives are the warm-blooded birds. Many crocodilians even gather brush to build nests, as birds do.