Status and Conservation of West Africa Slender-Snouted Crocodile

The Critically Endangered West African slender-snouted crocodile (Mecistops cataphractus) is one of the rarest and least studied crocodilians in the world (Shirley, 2007). Although the species is known to occur in many West African countries, significant population has been recorded in only Tai National Park, Côte d’Ivoire (M. Shirley, pers. comm.). M. cataphractus population in Ghana is believed to be experiencing rapid decline due to habitat destruction, illegal hunting and human-crocodile conflicts. Despite this, data rarely exist on the species in most of the areas where it occurs. Through the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) EDGE Fellowship programme, we have initiated investigation into the population status, ranging behavior and threats of M. cataphractus in the Obuasi Municipality and Mole National Park since March, 2017

The aim of this project is to secure long-term protection of M. cataphractus population in Mole National Park and Obuasi Municipality through ecological studies, social surveys and community awareness campaigns and local capacity building programmes. We are using both diurnal reconnaissance and nocturnal spotlight surveys methods (Webb &Smith, 1987) to thoroughly search for crocodiles within wetlands, rivers and other suitable habitats in the two project sites. Diurnal survey will help identify habitat threats and also plan nocturnal survey route. We are using radio telemetry to investigate the ranging behavior of the species. This data will help address the increasing conflicts between the species and fish farmers in the Obuasi Municipality. Thus the data will well position us to make accurate recommendations on appropriate areas to site fish ponds to avoid fish raiding. This will help improve fish production in the area which in turn improve the livelihood of locals while reducing instant killings of the species as result of fish pond invasion. We are using structured questionnaires and interviews to gather information on local perception of crocodile conservation, observed population trend and causes of human-crocodile conflicts. We are raising awareness about the species and its habitat through PowerPoint presentations, focal group discussions, stakeholder workshops, video shows as well as promotional materials such as billboards, t-shirts, flyers and wristbands. We are training community volunteers on how to safely capture and relocate crocodile to their original habitat in case of residence or fish pond invasion.

Though the project is at the early stage, it has made great stride by recording 21 individuals of Mecistops cataphractus in the Obuasi Municipality during six days survey which covered 8 km in the Jimi River and also made the first country record of M. cataphractus nest. This result is very encouraging because earlier crocodile surveys which were undertaken by Dr. Matthew Shirley which covered a total distance of 726.4 km on 46 sites in Ghana (25 sites) and Côte d’Ivoire (21 sites) recorded only 14 individuals (Shirley, 2007). The 21 individuals recorded represent one of the highest numbers recorded in single location in the whole of West Africa. Also, the project team has established links with local stakeholders who are ready to offer their maximum support for successful implementation of the project for long term conservation of the species.