Puerto Rico’s El Vocero reports that Executive Director of the San Juan Bay Estuary, Javier E. Laureano, explained that in a study was made of a period of ten years, a total of 965 caimans (of the alligator family) were spotted in different bodies of water in Puerto Rico, 118 of them in San Juan. The study was made out of concern for the potential risk to people, pets, and native fauna. There had been several complaints by fishermen and other inhabitants in the area of the San José Lagoon. The study was carried out by Ambienta Inc. and Proyecto Coquí, which is directed by environmental scientist and university professor Rafael Joglar, along with scientists Walter E. Soler Figueroa, Louis Santiago, and Nelson Vélez. The areas studied included the San Juan Bay Estuary, San José Lagoon, Los Corozos Lagoon, Juan Méndez Creek, San Antón Creek, Suárez Canal, Torrecilla Lagoon, Piñones Lagoon, and Blasina Canal.
People have been warned that if they see any specimens, they must respect the alligators’ space and call the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources immediately at (787) 815-1575. Unlike the species Iguana Iguana or gallina de palo, these reptiles do not scare easily and may attack if they feel threatened. Laureano warned, “There is reason for concern because it has been documented that the alligators prey on species of fish, crustaceans, and other organisms; they are also considered dangerous due to their aggressiveness to humans and as a carrier of diseases and pathogens.”
During the study, 14 caimans were observed in a single night; the most caimans were observed in Juan Méndez Creek and the wetlands adjacent to San José Lagoon. The study documented sightings, visual censuses, and interviews with 25 people who documented the presence of these exotic animals between 2000 and 2010. In the case of the San Juan Bay Estuary, the animals were observed in 18 different locations, so specialists consider that it is already an established and well distributed species.
The caiman type is known by its scientific name of Caima crocodiluis, who is originally from the Central and South America and possibly arrived on the island through the pet shop market in the 1960s. A major problem is that currently very little is known of the natural history and the ecological impact of the caiman in Puerto Rico.
Scientific advisor to the San Juan Bay Estuary Dr. Jorge Bauzá Ortega, who oversaw the study, explained that “The introduction of exotic species is considered one of the greatest threats to biodiversity and one of the major causes of global changes. Once they establish themselves as invaders in a new territory, they affect the native fauna and it is very difficult to control the situation. In some ways the caiman case is more complicated, since they not only affect the island’s biodiversity but they also threaten the security of people who live close to, visit, and use the bodies of water. Therefore, a species eradication plan should be put into place while educating people about the risks in approaching one of these reptiles.”