With the top 100 EDGE Reptiles list launching this year, the world's most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered reptile species will be in the spotlight.
EDGE Fellow Emmanuel Amoah is working to protect the Critically Endangered West African slender-snouted crocodile (Mecistops cataphractus) - one of the rarest and least studied crocodilians in the world.
This remarkable species has a long, narrow snout perfect for capturing fish, and individuals have been known to reach 4 m in length. The slender-snouted crocodile is the only member of its genus, and has been identified as a priority species by ZSL’s EDGE of Existence programme, meaning it is highly Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered.
The species is believed to have undergone rapid population decline throughout its range and, in Ghana, it is threatened by habitat destruction, prey reduction, and human-crocodile conflict.
The West African slender-snouted crocodile population in the Obuasi Municipality is no exception – here crocodiles are threatened by increasing conflicts with fish farmers, who complain of crocodiles raiding their fish ponds, and kill them in retaliation.
In Ghana, we are finding that community-based conservation efforts are increasingly important for slender-snouted crocodiles. And it is this need to facilitate communities that drove the creation of my Segré EDGE Fellowship – particularly in Obuasi. I am investigating this complex conservation context to lay strong foundations for long-term crocodile conservation in open-minded communities.
Specifically, I am: 1) assessing the status of the crocodile population; 2) studying crocodile movements and habitat selection, particularly their use of fish ponds; and 3) enhancing local community conservation potential by developing proactive mitigation programs with the local fish farmers.
My team and I launched the initiative in March 2017 and our preliminary results are very encouraging. Our surveys in Obuasi Municipality revealed one of the highest concentrations known for this Critically Endangered species throughout its distribution.
Nationwide surveys in Ghana over a decade ago recorded only four individuals – though these surveys did not include Obuasi – and we have thus far identified as many as 21 individuals in the Jimi River, including hatchlings, juveniles, and adults - a very healthy demographic.
Further, we documented the first record of a West African slender-snouted crocodile nest in Ghana! Unfortunately, after opening the nest, we realised it was an old nest that failed to hatch, and we’re still investigating possible causes of failure.
Though our results thus far are encouraging, the more we work in the area, the more we learn about the threats facing this incredible crocodile. Illegal artisanal gold mining in the region is creating open pits that eventually flood and attract crocodiles in the wet season. Sadly, the pits are pumped out in the dry season to harvest both the fish and the crocodiles for consumption.
Despite these threats, our records of nests and hatchlings indicate the continued presence of reproductively active adults. These individuals provide a solid platform for a bounce back of the crocodile population, underlining the importance of our work with the Obuasi communities.
I invite crocodile fans everywhere to follow along with my project as we highlight results of our radio-telemetry studies of crocodile movements and conservation training workshops with fish farmers. I thank ZSL and all its members for supporting my Segré EDGE Fellowship working to protect the Critically Endangered slender-snouted crocodile!
ZSL’s EDGE of Existence Programme is kindly supported by Fondation Segré, investing in the next generation of conservation leaders.
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