Croc on the critical list

The Siamese crocodile is a medium-sized, freshwater species distinguished by a prominent bony crest at the back of its head.

Siamese crocodiles were once widespread throughout much of mainland Southeast Asia in a range of wetland habitats including slow-moving rivers, lakes, marshes and swamps. Regrettably, the species has now disappeared from 99% of its former range, and was widely feared to be extinct in the wild until its rediscovery during FFI-led surveys in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains.

Today it remains one of the world’s rarest reptiles, reduced to small, fragmented populations in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam.

Siamese crocodile facts

  • Fully grown Siamese crocodiles do not usually exceed 3.5m in length
  • They feed mainly on small animals including snakes, frogs and fish, and rarely tackle larger prey
  • The size of egg clutches in the wild ranges from 11-26
  • The blood of the Siamese crocodile has antimicrobial properties
  • Most of the estimated one million ‘Siamese’ crocodiles in captivity are actually hybrids and mongrels
  • Adult Siamese crocodiles construct burrows, but their purpose remains unclear
At a glance
Crocodylus siamensis
Critically Endangered
CambodiaIndonesiaLao People's Democratic RepublicThailandVietnam

Family:

Crocodylidae

Order:

Crocodylia

Estimated in the wild:

Fewer than 250 mature individuals

The Siamese crocodile is one of the most threatened and least well-known crocodilians in the world.

250

The number of adult Siamese crocodiles thought to survive in the wild.

2000

The year that Siamese crocodiles were rediscovered in Cambodia.

Conservation story

The decline of the Siamese crocodile began with competition from rice farmers for its wetland habitat, but it was the explosion in commercial hunting and large-scale farming in the 1950s – to supply the international skin trade – that drove the species to the brink of extinction.

Siamese crocodiles produce fine, soft leather and are easy to breed in captivity. Most wild-caught individuals have been hybridised with other crocodile species, compromising the genetic purity of the vast majority of captive stock as well as severely depleting the wild population.

Illegal collection of wild crocodiles continues to pose a threat to the species’ survival, but it is also under serious pressure from poaching, habitat loss, accidental entanglement in fishing gear, and the construction of hydroelectric dams.

Siamese crocodiles now appear to be extinct in the wild in Vietnam, but a captive-bred population has been reintroduced into Cat Tien National Park, and similar initiatives have been attempted in Thailand. Most recent conservation work on behalf of the species has focused on Cambodia, which harbours the largest known surviving populations.

How FFI is helping to save the Siamese crocodile

Since rediscovering the Siamese crocodile in the Cardamom Mountains, FFI has worked closely with the Cambodian government’s forestry department and local communities to safeguard the remaining wild crocodiles and their habitat.

Some communities in the Cardamom Mountains consider Siamese crocodiles to be sacred and have protected them for generations. FFI is working with the indigenous Khmer Dauem to improve their food security, their business acumen and their capacity to conserve their cultural heritage, including the reptiles that they revere.

Direct conservation measures include the establishment of community-led monitoring and anti-poaching activities at key breeding sites; advocacy of stricter controls over crocodile farming and trade; development of Cambodia’s first conservation breeding programme; and, in 2012, the launch of a national reintroduction programme that has already witnessed the release of pure-bred Siamese crocodiles at suitable sites in order to reinforce the wild population.