Also known as the Soft-belly crocodile, the Siamese crocodile had been considered virtually extinct in the wild, but FFI’s discovery in 2000 of “apparently intact populations” in the rivers and marshes of the Central Cardamom Mountains is cause for celebration and renewed action. It is still considered the most endangered crocodilian species in the world, and estimates of the number of Siamese crocodiles in Cambodia had varied between 50 and 4,000 before FFI’s discoveries, which shows just how little is known about this species. These animals have all but disappeared from many of the countries in their dispersal range, including Brunei, Malaysia, and Viet Nam.
Siamese crocodiles have been bred extensively in captivity, but captive crocodiles are of very mixed geographic and genetic origin, and have frequently been hybridized with Cuban or Saltwater crocodiles for commercial purposes. As a result, these crocodiles are of little use in conservation efforts, and require a full series of genetic checks before being returned to the wild. Furthermore, these hybrids are more aggressive than pure Siamese crocodiles, and are more likely to harm people. Restocking programs are being tentatively considered in Vietnam and Thailand. However, they have not actually begun yet, due to the difficulty of finding pure-bred Siamese crocodiles from the right areas.
The Siamese crocodile’s skin is considered to be extremely valuable, which, ironically enough, may actually prove to be a boon for conservation, as it means there are economic as well as environmental imperatives for keeping the species alive. However, it is still under significant threat from habitat destruction and poaching.
The animal grows to about three meters, with some hybrid versions growing to over four meters. The Cardamom Project’s partner, Fauna & Flora International carried out the first ever studies of the Siamese crocodile’s diet in the wild this year: It feeds on fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, small mammals, and carrion. It is not considered dangerous to humans, although it has been mistaken for its far more threatening cousin, the saltwater crocodile, which is larger and has a narrower snout. This case of mistaken identity has unfortunately led to further depletion of the Siamese crocodile population in the world.
Very little is known about its habitat, though it probably prefers slow-moving freshwater areas, such as swamps. It breeds during the wet months of April and May, and lays 20 to 50 eggs in a mound nest. Females guard the nests and carry the brood to the water after hatching occurs.