The Black Caiman

Caiman House Field Station and Lodge


North Rupununi District

Section 9


January 30, 2018

Regarding spotting of Jaguar and other wildlife, the Wilderness Explorers itinerary provides hope but makes no promises.

At the Iwokrama Lodge, for example, the itinerary states, “After dark we’ll set out on the river in hope of finding one or another of its four species of Caiman or snakes including Cox boa, tree frogs and if lucky maybe a puma or capybara.”

I did see one species of Black Caiman. 

The itinerary continues, “Transfer by 4 x 4 along the trail that is one of the best places to see the elusive Jaguar. The Iwokrama forest is rapidly gaining an international reputation for its healthy jaguar populations that seem not to be troubled by the appearance of curious humans.  No promises, but many have been lucky!”

No luck!  Not a jaguar in sight.

“On the main highway, traffic is very occasional and wildlife is often seen along the road, such as Agouti, Tayra, Puma, Tapir and Black Curassow.”

Nope.  None of these guys either.

“Depending on the level of the Rupununi River, this trip offers an excellent opportunity to look for Giant Otters as there are several family groups which live along this stretch of the river.”

I did see a group on the opposite side of the river so took a few blurry shots.

“Karanambu is located roughly in the middle of the beautiful and fascinating biological hotspot where endangered species like the Giant Otter, Black Caiman, Jaguar, Giant Anteater, and Arapaima can be found.  

Same result!

I had my heart set on seeing a Giant Anteater, but no luck.

But… Black Caiman?  YES!  Up close and personal!

“As a guest at the Caiman House, you have the unique opportunity to support and participate in an ongoing field study of the Black Caiman (Melanosuchus niger), the largest member of the alligator family and an endangered species.”

“You are invited to accompany the indigenous crew as they search for and capture the Black Caiman on the river, and to observe the capture from a separate boat.  You will be offered the opportunity to assist in data collection.”

Call me a coward but I stayed in the boat and kept my distance from the Caiman.  I “collected data” with my camera.

When the crew spots a Caiman, they lasso him around the throat and haul him towards the boat.  The Caiman puts up a fight, but the rope around the throat partially disables him.  Then they wrap tape around his mouth.  When the Caiman’s jaw is shut tight, he is as docile as a furry kitten sitting in your lap.  

Then he is hauled up on the beach, measured, weighed, examined, and catalogued.  They count the scales on his back - a unique configuration.   All the data is recorded. 

My Black Caiman is an elderly, underweight male.   As an elderly male his younger rivals chase him from his feeding grounds, hence the underweight.  He has lost at least one toe and has several wounds as the result of the territorial disputes.

Finally, and quite carefully, the crew leader gently removes the lasso, quickly unwinds the tape, and urges our old friend to return to the wild.  And so, he scampers away and disappears into the black, nighttime waters.  As they say in the movies, no animal was harmed in this examination.

Our nighttime outing and field study was one exciting event! 

I am sure that spotting a Jaguar lounging in a tree would have been inspiring, and following an anteater grazing across the savanna would have been picturesque.

But a Black Caiman?  This huge and dangerous reptile?  This biologically and ecologically successful creature bequeathed to us from the Age of Dinosaurs?  Now, that’s quite something!  

And adding to the drama on land, the sky also provided a dramatic scene.  January 30, 2018 was the night of the Super Moon!  Quite something, indeed!


Everything you ever wanted to know about the Black Caiman.

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