Crocodiles of Nosara

Although it’s unclear when it was erected, or who placed it, the relatively recent appearance of a new wooden signpost at the entrance to Boca Nosara sends a clear message. It reads: ‘Cocodrilos en su hábitat natural.’

At the mouth of the Boca, unless you’re a local fisherman, it’s doubtful that these ancient creatures, which managed to outlive the dinosaurs, and have likely lurked there before homo sapiens set foot on the American continent, will rear their heads. Nevertheless, sightings occur from time to time, particularly among the paddleboarders, kayakers, and boat tourists who enjoy venturing further down the river. In fact, the deeper you journey down the Rio Nosara the more likely you are to spot one, and locals know exactly where these huge reptiles nest and hunt.

Locally, there’s plenty of stories about pet dogs entering the river to cool off, and ending up as crocodile fodder, However, as far as we know, never has a crocodile attacked a human in Nosara. Although crocodile attacks in Costa Rica are highly uncommon, they still take place. In the past six years there have been eight attacks on humans. Two of these were surfers, both of whom were attacked in the estuary running between Playa Grande and Playa Tamarindo. The most widely publicized of these attacks was on Colorado native Arthur Becker, whose story appeared on global news and quickly went viral.

In 2016, early on a Friday morning, Mr Becker attempted to paddle across the estuary. In the many years he’d spent journeying to Costa Rica on surf trips, there was nothing out of the ordinary about this. He’d made the paddle countless times without incident. Midway through the paddle he felt something powerful clamp down on his leg. Hundreds of stitches, countless cuts and bruises, one broken nose, and one leg amputation later, Mr Becker was said to be in a stable condition in hospital.

Following the incident, tour operators were accused of feeding the crocodiles to entertain tourists, and the backlash resulted in measures being taken to stop promoting interaction between crocodiles and humans.

Crocodiles are found all over the Southern Hemisphere. One of the biggest of the species is the American crocodile, and Costa Rica is home to the largest population of these reptiles on the entire continent. Given the profusion of rivers, streams, and ocean tributaries in and around Nosara, it’s only natural that crocodiles would be common to the area. Their home base is usually estuaries, river mouths, mangroves, and very occasionally, right there on the beach. Although rare, there are also reports from surfers who have seen them skulking around the lineup.

Here are some facts about Nosara’s largest, meanest, and most ancient and revered wild creature.

● Of the 14 species of true crocodiles in the world, the American crocodile is one of the only 2 species that can live in saltwater.

● Unlike sharks, where attacks on humans are usually a case of mistaken identity, crocs don’t discriminate. These carnivores will eat any type of meat, including fish, mammals, turtles, and humans.

● The American crocodile can go two hours without taking a breath. However, when not hunting they hang out on river banks to relax and stabilize their temperature.

● When baby crocodiles hatch, they are a mere 25-30cm long. Then they get real big, real quick. American crocodiles growth rates are determined by their environment and food supply. This means in the food rich waters of Costa Rica, they can grow to become massive. Although rare, there have been confirmed reports of 6 m (19 feet) adult males weighing over a thousand kilograms.

● American crocodiles swallow stones in order to aid digestion and control their buoyancy levels.

● American crocodiles territory includes rivers, streams, swamps, lagoons, or estuaries, salt marshes, freshwater marshes, mangroves, swamp forests, river mouths, and the open ocean. Around Nosara, there are documented cases in which crocodiles, usually young ones, have been found in private swimming pools.

● The American crocodiles habitat stretches from ranges from Southern Florida to Peru. However, the densest populations live in Costa Rica.

● Adult American crocodiles are apex predators. With the exception of humans, sharks, or maybe a huge cat going after a youngster, there are few things that can match their physical prowess.

● Once considered an endangered species the American crocodile is now categorized as vulnerable. In the past, the species suffered from habitat loss, and were often hunted as food and for their valuable skins. Consequently, the population dwindled, reaching a critical point in the 1960s, when they were largely driven out of much of their former range. In the 1980s and 90s, the Costa Rican government deemed them a protected species. Since this time they have returned to their former homes, and remain protected in all areas of Costa Rica. However, poaching and habitat loss continue to remain a threat.

crocodiles in nosara

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