Snappy to meet you: Virginia Aquarium welcomes rare crocs

Sommer, the female Tomistoma crocodile that arrived Saturday at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. (Courtesy of the Virginia Aquarium)
Sommer, the female Tomistoma crocodile that arrived Saturday at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. (Courtesy of the Virginia Aquarium)

The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center took in a pair of rare Tomistoma crocodiles Saturday from Malaysia, marking the first permitted import of such animals from their native country since 1974.

The two crocodiles now make up one of only six breeding pairs of Tomistoma in North America, according to the Aquarium.

“These are incredibly rare animals, and for us to be able to safely import two of them thanks to a partnership with a Malaysian crocodile farm is an honor,” Rachel Metz, the aquarium’s director of live exhibits, said in a statement. “There are only 28 Tomistoma in North America, and that number continues to decline. For the crocodile community to recognize our experience and expertise in Tomistoma research and conservation in this manner is really wonderful.”

The crocodiles, which were born and raised in a Malaysian crocodile farm, were flown to the United States on Saturday night with the aquarium’s senior curator of reptiles, Chip Harshaw. They were placed in their new home in time for a public appearance Sunday and will remain on exhibit in the Restless Planet gallery, the former home of Gloria, the last Tomistoma crocodile to live at the Aquarium.

Gloria had been at the Virginia Aquarium since 2009 but was moved in mid-October to Florida in hopes of finding her a suitable mate.

The new pair will go by the names Ralf and Sommer, in remembrance of Ralf Sommerlad, a German crocodilian specialist who spent his life working to study and protect animals like the Tomistoma, the Aquarium said. The female, Sommer, is 8 feet long and about 112 pounds; Ralf is 7 feet long and 65 pounds.

Tomistoma are the least studied of 23 different types of crocodilians because of their remote and inaccessible habitat — the freshwater lakes, rivers, and swamps of Indonesia and Malaysia, the Aquarium said. Only 2,500 are left in the wild, according to some estimates. The Aquarium said they are listed as vulnerable on the International Union of Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species and endangered according to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service because of habitat destruction, drowning in fishing nets, overfishing of food and, to a limited extent, their skin trade.

The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center participates in the Crocodilian Taxonomic Advisory Group and has a history of field and conservation research on Tomistomas.

“We are also proud to be recognized as one of the top supporters of the Tomistoma Task Force, an international coalition dedicated to protecting this endangered species,” Metz said.


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