Individual identification patterns as a monitoring strategy for American crocodiles: Tayrona National Natural Park as a study case
Population numbers of the American crocodile in Colombia have shown an increasing trend during the last decades. However, the lack of monitoring programs has restricted our understanding about this species’ ecology, limiting the ability to develop sound conservation plans. We assessed the effectiveness and robustness of the Individual Identification Pattern Recognition (IIPR) method for remotely monitoring American crocodile populations based on photographs taken by researchers, tourists, locals, and employees at the Tayrona National Natural Park (TNNP). We catalogued a total of 97 events from 2008 to 2020; 34.02% of which were suitable to analyze using IIPR. We identified eight individuals across 33 events that required only 4.71 ± 1.70 transverse scute lines to obtain complete identification, with the lowest levels of variation in the post occipital and nuchal regions compared with the dorsal area. The probabilities of repeating both the most and least common patterns found in the TNNP were 1.88 × 10-6 and 1.81 × 10-12, respectively, and the probabilities of repeating the same pattern of each individual identified ranged between 48.73 × 10-11 and 15.24 × 10-8. Animals B and C were continuously identified between 2012 and 2020 along the Arrecife beach coastline, whereas animals A, H, E, and F were occasionally registered between 2008 and 2019 at the Cañaveral beach. Overall, the IIPR method looks as a promising tool for monitoring American crocodile populations in the TNNP albeit some improvements in data collection that must be done to increase the number of useful events and analysis quality.