Crocodiles Rock
at Lago Enriquillo
Dominican Republic

This lake is the Caribbean's lowest point: 130 feet below sea level.

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?We say that you're better off if the police find you with a dead man in your car than a crocodile,? my guide Juan-Luis reports. ?At least with a dead man you can claim self-defense.?

Not your usual conservation message, but it's working. In the 1980s, only 7 American crocodiles survived in Lago Enriquillo, an inland lake near the Haitian border. The rest of the animals had been killed by farmers.

By the year 2,000, the census showed 480 crocodiles living in the 13-mile long salt water lake. Two more hatching seasons have passed since, so the crocodile count now could be as high as 600.

The crocs, which are not native, were introduced by the government in the 1930s in an attempt to promote tourism in this very out of the way region. Many decades later, it looks like the crocodiles are finally becoming a major tourist attraction just as originally planned.

Lake Enriquillo, bordered by two mountain ranges on the north and south, sits 130 feet below sea level, the lowest spot in the entire Caribbean. The lake is named after the famed Taino leader Enriquillo (Guarocuya), who led the first insurrection against the Spanish (1520-33).

The lake and its three islands, a two-hour drive from the nearest hotels located in the city of Barahona, are a protected national park. The largest island, five-mile long Isla Cabritos (Goat Island), is the best place now to see crocodiles. The island is also home to two endangered species of large iguanas, the rhinoceros and Ricord's.

As the lowest point in the Caribbean, daytime temperatures on Isla Cabritos sometimes climb to 45C degrees. Neither man nor beast likes that kind of heat. The best time to see crocs is early while they're sprawled on the beach and before they slip into the water.

As anyone who's seen ?Peter Pan? or ?Crocodile Dundee? knows, crocodiles are regarded as fearsome creatures that will dine on a person as readily as a dog or other animals.

So when Jean Luis and I step into the small boat that will carry us to Isla Cabritos, I'm amazed to watch our boatman walk into the dark brown water and push us out chest-deep so he can lower the outboard motor. Didn't he see ?Crocodile Dundee??

?The crocodiles are very shy,? Juan-Luis explains. ?They are scared of humans.?

I imagine hunting them almost to extinction would put the fear of man into the creatures. Still, I wonder how many years it will be before Enriquillo's crocodiles realize they have nothing to be afraid of and more locals start resembling Capt. Hook.

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