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Dwarf Caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus) Fact Sheet: Population & Conservation Status

Population Status

Population estimates

  • No quantitative global estimates—but considered widespread and abundant (Magnusson et al. 2019)
    • Surveys for other crocodilian species report presence of dwarf caimans in many locations
      • About 80% of dwarf caiman’s range included in these surveys
  • Lack of data on population trends in many areas (Magnusson et al. 2019; Campos et al. 2019)
  • Densities estimates
    • Low densities generally reported across this species’s range (Stevenson 2019)
      • 0 to 2 caimans/km reported in Brazil (multiple locations), Venezuela, and Ecuador (Campos et al. 1995; Rebelo and Lugli 2001; Pacheco Alvarez 2009; Carvalho and Veras Batista 2013; Muniz et al. 2015; Campos et al. 2018)
    • Higher densities reported in certain locations in Brazil (e.g., Campos et al. 1995; Campos and Magnusson 2016)
      • Up to 28 caimans/km at a newly created water reservoir site

Population structure

  • Muniz et al. (2018) suggest 3 evolutionarily significant units:
    • Amazon
    • Madeira-Bolivia
    • Pantanal
  • Strong population structuring in upper Madeira River (Hrbek et al. 2008)

Conservation Status

IUCN

  • Least Concern (2018 assessment) (Magnusson et al. 2019, except as noted)
    • Wide range in South America
    • No severe threats
    • Occurs in many national parks (Campos, Marioni, et al. 2013)
  • Previous assessments
    • 1996: Lower Risk/least concern (Magnusson et al. 2019)

CITES

  • Appendix II (UNEP 2019)
    • Guyana: annual export quota of 500 live animals (Magnusson 2019; UNEP 2019)
    • Also see “Pet trade,” below

Threats to Survival

Habitat loss

  • Watershed pollution and soil erosion due to human activities (especially along borders of Pantanal) (Thorbjarnarson 1992; Trutnau and Sommerlad 2006; Campos and Mourão 2006; Campos et al. 2015; Campos and Muniz 2019; Magnusson et al. 2019)
    • Urbanization (e.g., road and dam construction, human settlements)
    • Mining operations
    • Agriculture and livestock operations
  • Deforestation (e.g., by cutting, burning) (Muniz et al. 2015)

Hunting

  • Adults and eggs taken by subsistence hunters for food (Medem 1958; Thorbjarnarson 1992; Trutnau and Sommerlad 2006; Campos and Mourão 2006; Muniz et al. 2015; Campos et al. 2018; Campos and Muniz 2019; Magnusson et al. 2019)
    • Hunting can locally reduce densities but populations not thought to be significantly impacted
    • Dwarf caiman sometimes taken in preference to other caiman species
  • Little commercial take (Magnusson 1989; Magnusson et al. 2019)
    • Skins not sought for leather goods production
      • Dwarf caiman is small
      • Skin covered in bony scales (osteoderms)
    • Not historically hunted for skin trade (Stevenson 2019)
  • Killed where human–crocodilian conflict exists (Campos 2015)
  • Also see “Dwarf caiman in traditional medicine”

Pet trade

  • Taken from the wild in Guyana for pet industry, mainly in the U.S. (Thorbjarnarson 1992)
    • Subject to CITES annual export quota of 500 live animals (Magnusson 2019; UNEP 2019)

Management Actions

Conservation actions

  • Dwarf caiman conservation dependent on maintaining forest and watershed headwaters (Campos et al. 2019)
  • Likely the least-well studied New World crocodilian (Magnusson 1992; Magnusson and Campos 2010; Campos et al. 2019, except as noted)
    • Well camouflaged animals; often difficult to detect for scientific study (e.g., Carvalho and Veras Batista 2013; Campos et al. 2015)
    • Little known about dwarf caiman biology until 1990s, except for early work by F. Meden and W.E. Magnusson (Campos et al. 2015)
  • Research needed to understand basic biology (e.g., ecology, behavior, habitat preferences, diet, reproduction, population biology) (Magnusson 1989; Magnusson and Campos 2010; Campos et al. 2019)

Threats to Survival

Dwarf caiman at edge of stream

Watershed pollution and deforestation are the main threats to dwarf caiman populations.

Protecting this species depends on maintaining healthy forest and watershed headwaters.

Image credit: © Zilca Campos. All rights reserved. Used with permission from the artist.

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