ORLANDO, Fla. -- A festival of crocodiles will be held for the first time at the Alligator Capital of the World to help a critically endangered species.
Gatorland in Orlando, Florida, will host CrocFest on Dec. 11. Funds raised will support the release and satellite tracking of a group of head-started Orinoco crocodiles raised at several United States zoos for the sole purpose of reintroducing them into their natural Venezuela habitats.
They are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as critically endangered.
"Orinoco crocodiles or some of the biggest crocodiles in the entire world," Savannah Boan, crocodilian enrichment coordinator and international ambassador for Gatorland Global Conservation, said, "There are records of them getting to be 22-feet long. They're an amazing, gigantic dinosaur. And there's only about 1,500 left in the wild."
The crocodiles were brought to near-extinction in the mid-1900s by unsustainable hunting for hides. Their eggs and meat are still taken for food, and their teeth are thought by some to have healing powers.
Conservation efforts also include the establishment of a national park, Parque National Santos Luzardo.
"We are absolutely thrilled to have been the only park in Central Florida chosen to raise two Orinoco crocodile hatchlings for the release program in Venezuela," said Mark McHugh, president and CEO of Gatorland. "This groundbreaking research project is a perfect fit for our conservation programs under Gatorland Global."
Gatorland, a 110-acre family-owned-and-operated theme park, originally opened as a roadside attraction in 1949.