First came one.
Then another — and another.
By Wednesday, seven critically endangered Orinoco crocodiles had emerged from their eggs at Zoo Miami.
And they are expecting more crocodile babies throughout the weekend, Zoo Miami Spokesman Ron Magill said. On Feb. 5, their mom — named Bella — laid 45 eggs.
“She’s a new mom and her babies came just in time for Mother’s Day,” Magill added. “Many people would look at these baby crocodiles and say ‘that’s a face only a mother can love.’”
Shortly after Bella — who hatched at the zoo in 1980 — laid her eggs, zoo staff carefully collected and placed the crocodile babies into incubators in an effort to prevent them from being harmed. About half were placed in cool areas; others were placed in warmer locations.
That’s because the temperature determines the sex of the crocodiles, Magill said. Those hatchlings in a cool area are females. A warm temperature means that they will be males.
“By incubating the eggs in separate incubators with warmer and cooler temperatures, the hope is to have an even ratio of males to females,” Magill noted.
On May 2 — 85 days after being laid — the first crocodile emerged. By Wednesday, six more did the same.
Orinoco crocodiles are considered to be one of the world’s most critically endangered crocodile species because they are hunted for their skin and meat, Magill said. They are mainly found in the Orinoco River basin in Venezuela and the Meta River basin in Colombia.
Magill said the hatchlings are now in protected pools and will not be on display to the public for at least several weeks. Bella, who lived in several institutions, returned to Zoo Miami in 2019. The father was hatched at the Dallas World Aquarium in March of 2004 and arrived at Zoo Miami in November of 2006.
The goal, Magill said, was to eventually return the hatchlings to the wild.
“The bottom line is zoos are an insurance policy against the very uncertain future in the wild,” Magill said. “When crocodiles aren’t there, other populations of animals can explode and you lose the balance that is essential to the environment.”