The black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) is a carnivorous reptile from the family Alligatoridae that gets its name from its dark coloration as an adult. It is found in lakes, slow moving rivers, and other freshwater habitats in South America, primarily in the Amazon basin. It is the largest predator in the Amazon ecosystem, reaching a size of 4.5 meters in length, and preying on just about any animal it can sink its teeth into. The black caiman is a nocturnal hunter, relying on its keen sense of sight and hearing to find food.
Adult black caimans have no known predators; however, as hatchlings they are heavily predated by rodents, coatis, birds, and other animals. Female black caimans breed only once every 2-3 years, laying an average of 30-60 eggs at a time. Although mother caimans guard their nests solicitously, very few hatchlings survive into adulthood.
The black caiman is listed as a Vulnerable (VU) species in Ecuador and as a Low Concern (LC) species on the IUCN Red List. For decades, it was highly endangered due to extensive hunting for its valuable skin which began in the 1940s and culminated in the population being reduced by 99%. Today, due to legislation that restricts hunting, the black caiman has undergone substantial recovery. However, it is still vulnerable to illegal hunting and has virtually disappeared from Colombia and the Amazon River itself.