The reptile found in Chew Valley Lake last August will be used to teach people the danger and potential cruelty of keeping a crocodilian as a pet.
The ‘spectacled’ caiman will go on display at Crocodiles of the World, a conservation centre near Brize Norton, once it has fully recovered from the injuries and abnormalities it received in its previous owners’ care.
The origin of the animal is still unknown, but it is likely to have been an unlicensed pet which the owner disposed of.
Colin Stevenson, Head of Education at Crocodiles of the World, thinks the alligator is lucky to be alive.
He said: “If this thing hadn’t have been found when it was, it most certainly would have perished as soon as winter came about.”
The caiman was found on 4 August 2017 in Chew Valley Lake by a reservoir engineer. It was rescued by the RSPCA and sent to Crocodiles of the World to be looked after by crocodilian experts.
In the UK you can keep crocodiles, alligators and caimans as a pet with a Dangerous Wild Animals licence, which local councils can issue, but the education team at the conservation centre want to discourage this.
Colin Stevenson, in charge of the education team, said: “The animals require so much specialist care, and a pet crocodile will probably spend most of its time hiding away and could bite you out of fear. When they get too big their owners often dump them.”
When the Chew Valley caiman is ready for display, Stevenson plans to use it to emphasise this message.
He added: “He can be used as part of our educational message by highlighting the fate of most of these pet caimans, hopefully we can dissuade a few people from their little grand schemes to have a pet croc.”
— Bristol Water (@BristolWater) August 4, 2017
Before joining the Crocodiles of the World team, Stevenson worked in crocodile conservation and education in Australia. He has spent the last eight months looking after the caiman and is concerned about the condition of his teeth.
He said: “His weight is all okay, there’s a few problems with his toes, but the main issue we have at the moment is his teeth. Some of the teeth are at slight angles which indicates to us that he’s been given an incorrect diet, probably from the get go.”
Stevenson and his team have corrected his diet to give his teeth the best chance of straightening out.
The discovery of the caiman was a shock to residents of Bristol and around the country, but this isn’t the first time Bristol has been associated with a wild crocodile.
In 2014, bus driver, Joylon Rees, claimed to have seen a crocodile in the River Avon as his bus was stopped in traffic on Bedminster bridge.
A police search failed to find any such creature, but despite the lack of evidence, multiple ‘crocodile sightings’ were reported in the weeks and years following.
Four years later, Rees is still adamant that he saw a crocodile in the river, he said: “I know it was a crocodile, it was swimming along but I could only see the top of it. I took a drugs test to prove I was sober, but no one believed me. I hope if it’s still somewhere in the river that its doing okay.”
If you spot an animal that looks out of place, call the RSPCA on 0300 123 4999.