Crocodile report cards


Crocodile report cards

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June 30, 2015

Crocodile report cards

By Dr. Heath Kelsey 


I had the unique opportunity to discuss report cards with a couple of global crocodile experts based in Darwin. Grahame Webb and Charlie Manolis are active in crocodile management and conservation globally, and operate Crocodylus Park in Darwin, a crocodile farm and research facility. Grahame is chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Crocodile Specialist Group, and Charlie is Chief Scientist at Crocodylus Park.

Grahame contacted me following a seminar on report cards I gave at CDU in March this year and we caught up a few days later. We discussed IAN’s current direction with report cards and assessment, and the need for multiple perspective engagement to achieve sustainable change. I was happy to discover some common interests, and was intrigued by the possibility of using the report card approach to assess the health of an iconic threatened species like crocodiles.

Crocodiles at Crocodylus Park in Darwin Australia. Credit Heath Kelsey


Grahame’s views are a bit controversial; he insists that in order to achieve conservation goals for wild populations of crocodiles, people’s livelihoods must be included as equally important components of conservation planning and management. This includes crocodile farming for meat and hides, artisanal harvest of wild crocodiles, and even international trade in crocodile goods. This is abhorrent to many conservation-oriented individuals and organizations, who often view conservation of wildlife as the only objective. In Grahame’s view, this single-issue advocacy is where we often fail in conservation efforts. Without considering the practical human social and economic considerations, conservation is doomed to failure.

Of great interest to me are the parallels in this way of thinking with the work we’ve recently done developing the Mississippi River report card. Kudos to The Nature Conservancy for understanding that in order to succeed in ecological restoration in the Mississippi River basin, social and economic interests need to be full and equal partners from the start, and that a shared vision developed together presents the best opportunity for achieving much needed change.

Six equally weighted goals for the Mississippi River Report Card provides balance between economic, social, and environmental objectives. Credit: America’s Watershed Initiative and IAN


Using the report card process, we successfully engaged representatives from the transportation, water supply, recreation, environment, flood control, and economy sectors in developing a consensus built report card for tracking progress in all of these areas. By giving equal weight to economic, social, and environmental concerns, no single perspective is placed above or below another, fostering a collegial and collaborative atmosphere that might just have a chance at making a difference in a terribly challenging environment. Although the Mississippi River process is not complete, the feedback of participants in relation to developing this collegial and collaborative atmosphere has been overwhelmingly positive.

Working together helps develop a shared vision of the future. Credit Heath Kelsey

I met again with Grahame and Charlie last week to review a recent trip to Madagascar that Charlie had just taken where he introduced the report card concept. Currently in Madagascar, crocodile management is mostly non-existent, relying on inconsistent or incomplete measurements, and single issue advocacy. Farming interests try to expand while living with (not necessarily following) theConvention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and conservation NGOs push for restoration and conservation without a lot of enforcement capacity. In short, it’s a big mess, and no one understands or even cares what others are doing. We discussed how the report card process, although difficult, might be useful in this context.

The objective for the report card in Madagascar is to jump start the management of a largely ungoverned industry. In Madagascar, the benefits include a chance to:

  • Educate stakeholders on the perspectives of others,
  • Create a shared vision for advancing crocodile population health
  • Streamline reporting for CITES,
  • Produce a tracking mechanism for sustainable crocodile wild populations and livelihoods.

Grahame Webb and Charlie Manolis work through report card ideas to streamline reporting and monitoring for crocodile management on Madagascar. Credit: Heath Kelsey

The situation in Madagascar is exceedingly difficult as a result of the historically poor oversight of crocodile management and the lack of understanding on the part of different stakeholders. Charlie is continuing to advance the report card there, but we weren’t sure about our chances of success. A parallel effort in Cambodia may be more fruitful, and that’s next up for discussion.

It was a fascinating discussion that left me even more convinced that report cards are useful tools for advancing conservation and restoration goals for a broad range of difficult global issues.

Dr. Heath Kelsey is currently collaborating with the Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods while in residence at Charles Darwin University from the University of Maryland.

First published: The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science