Last updated 22 April 2003: amended Bibliography and info on caimans and added paragraph on recent seizures of crocodilians.


Crocodilians are, after the tuatara, probably the oldest living reptile order on earth. The order Crocodylia comprises three families, the Alligatoridae (which includes the caimans), Crocodilydae, and Gavialidae. Between them they muster 22 living species. Although they have been around for about 300 million years, none of the ancient crocodiles survives today - perhaps just as well for those humans living in crocodile habitats. For example, the so-called "Panzercroc" which lived in post-dinosaur times, despite rising mammalian predominance grew to up to 50ft - twice as long as the largest living crocodiles. In some ways crocodilians are our only living link with the dinosaurs (unless birds are counted), displaying characteristics uncommon of modern reptiles. The most notable of these is their completely four-chambered hearts (most reptilian hearts are incompletely divided, unlike mammalian hearts), and their care for their young, although a few other reptile species do exhibit this. The thecodonts, or so-called "crimson crocs", are supposedly ancestral to the true dinosaurs.

The three families can be characterised as follows:

The title of this page is actually a bit of a misnomer. In the UK, with our limited space, small houses and damp climate, 99% of the population do not have the resources to keep one of these reptiles, nor should they even contemplate doing so. There are several reasons why these magnificent reptiles are not suited to private captivity: There is no denying that crocodilians are fascinating creatures, much maligned by man but worthy of further study. However, in most cases that study should be left to those with the time, motivation and financial capability to do so. Crocodilians are under enough pressure in the wild without having their numbers depleted for an unsuitable private captivity. Please think very carefully about this - even a large monitor lizard is easy in comparison with a caiman, alligator or crocodile. Herpetologists have a hard enough time with well-meaning people trying to prevent the ownership of perfectly legitimate species. We don't need to be shooting ourselves in the foot by keeping inappropriate ones.

At the same time, however, there has recently been a disturbing tendency for certain authorities (both legitimate and self-appointed) to seize captive crocodilians in the UK in what can be described at best as devious tactics and at worst as outright theft. Certainly in cases where owners have legitimate paperwork, the excuses for these raids have been very flimsy, and even in one case where the owner did not possess a DWA license for these particular animals, this was at least partly because the local authority had told him in advance that they would never grant him a licence, and the vet employed by that authority had openly expressed a loathing of crocodilians and reptiles in general. It is also highly suspicious that the animals thus seized turned up in Portugal at premises run by a friend of the so-called "expert" who had played a large part in these proceedings. It was generally agreed in court that the crocodiles kept by the local man had been well looked after. There is doubtless more unpleasantness to be exposed to the public gaze in this particular case, so watch this space. In the meantime, if you do own a crocodilian, firstly make sure that you have the requisite paperwork, and secondly, make a point of joining a reputable herpetological association (in Britain, the Federation of British Herpetologists has a good record of defending keepers) who can if necessary provide you with a good solicitor and equally importantly turn the glare of publicity on some of these self-styled guardians of the public.

Click here for our Guide to Individual Species.

The following are links to crocodilian-related web sites that I have found. If anyone knows of any others, please E-mail me.

Bibliography and Links

The only printed guide dedicated to the captive care of crocodilians that I have found so far is General Care & Maintenance of Alligators, Caiman, and other Crocodilians, by Dan Malone and Theresa Moran, a slim (24-page) volume printed 1998 by ECO in the USA. Despite its slender size it is quite useful for the price, as long as you realise that it is an introduction rather than a complete guide. I do not know whether any of the large multi-volume sets on reptilian veterinary care and husbandry (eg those by Frederic Frye) offer much guidance.

Crocodilians - Natural History and Conservation is a good general and comprehensive site to start from. This site was created by Adam Britton, a Bristol University zoologist who does research on crocodiles, and is contributed to by the Universities of Bristol and Florida. The site contains a list of other Internet crocodilian links.

Dr Britton recently put out the following online manual: Crocodilian Captive Care FAQ. The aims of this manual are not only help for the dedicated crocodilian keeper but also to show why most people should not keep them as pets. There are also contributions from other herpetologists, including Dr Frederic Frye and Melissa Kaplan. I recommend anyone interested in crocodilians to take a look.

The Heidelberg zoology site has some generic data on the order, its families and species. This is rather dry but useful taxonomic classification material.

There are some croc_pictures and online links at this site.

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