The tiny Morelet’s crocodile moved furiously as it was pulled from the water, hissing like a cat and thrashing its scaly, armoured tail. Our field guide, Ruben Arévalo, stroked it under the chin and the reptile gurgled. Then, quick as flash, the guide slipped rubber bands around its snout.
Crocodiles have very strong jaws,” Arévalo said, “but only when they bite down. The muscles for opening their mouths are weak. So you can keep a crocodile’s mouth shut with just a tiny bit of pressure.”
He turned the croc over unceremoniously and it lay transfixed, as if in a trance. Its hazel-green eyes glistened in the flashlight beam. Its belly was white as an egg, soft, dry and shiny like polished leather and undulating with breaths.
“It’s a girl”, Arévalo said, pointing to what were not obviously genitals. “Just a baby too – they get up to three metres.” The crocodile was only as long as his leg, but its teeth looked like needles. He weighed the reptile on a hand scale, pulled out a clipboard — protected with plastic against the drizzling rain — and made a series of notes. Then he took the rubber bands off and gently lowered the croc into the water. As soon as it hit the surface, it shot away in a splash into the warm tropical night.