New species of crocodile is discovered for the first time in 85 YEARS but scientists say the Central Africa slender-snouted reptile is ALREADY critically endangered

  • The slender-snouted crocodile is medium-sized and lives in freshwater habitats
  • Scientists were studying the critically endangered slender-snouted crocodile
  • Scientists found that what they thought was one species is actually two

Scientists have discovered a new species of crocodile for the first time in 85 years.

The slender-snouted crocodile is medium-sized and lives in freshwater habitats in Central Africa.

While studying the critically endangered slender-snouted crocodile, researchers found that what they previously thought was one species is actually two.

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Scientists have discovered a new species of crocodile for the first time in 85 years. The slender-snouted crocodile (pictured) is medium-sized and lives in freshwater habitats in Central Africa

What are slender-snouted crocodiles?

The slender-snouted crocodile is medium-sized and lives in freshwater habitats in Central Africa.

While studying the critically endangered slender-snouted crocodile, researchers found that what they previously thought was one species is actually two.

One is unique to West Africa and one is unique to Central Africa.

Scientists estimate only 10 percent of slender-snouted crocodiles occur in West Africa, effectively diminishing its population by 90 percent.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed slender-snouted crocodiles as ‘Critically Endangered’ in 2014.

They are threatened by habitat loss, hunting and overfishing – which diminishes their food supply and leads them to drown in nets.

In addition to the differences in their DNA, the scientists found differences in the skull shape and scales that strongly support the existence of two species.

First described in 1824, slender-snouted crocodiles live in very remote areas and have little interaction with people.

When scientists analysed the DNA and physical characteristics of crocodiles in the wild and in captivity in six African countries, they found two distinct species of slender-snouted crocodiles.

One is unique to West Africa and one is unique to Central Africa.

‘Recognising the slender-snouted crocodile as actually comprised of two different species is cause for great conservation concern,’ said Matthew Shirley, a crocodile expert at Florida International University’s Tropical Conservation Institute and lead researcher of the team.

‘We estimate only 10 per cent of slender-snouted crocodiles occur in West Africa, effectively diminishing its population by 90 percent.

‘This makes the West African slender-snouted crocodile one of the most critically endangered crocodile species in the world’, he said.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed slender-snouted crocodiles as ‘Critically Endangered’ in 2014.

They are threatened by habitat loss, hunting and overfishing – which diminishes their food supply and leads them to drown in nets.

At first glance, the West African and Central African slender-snouted crocodiles appear quite similar.


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In addition to the differences in their DNA, the scientists found differences in the skull shape and scales that strongly support the existence of two species.

First described in 1824, slender-snouted crocodiles live in very remote areas and have little interaction with people.

While studying the critically endangered slender-snouted crocodile, researchers found that what they previously thought was one species is actually two. Crocodile expert Matthew Shirley poses with juvenile Central African slender-snouted crocodiles

They camouflage themselves from prey and seek refuge from potential predators in highly vegetated bodies of water.

They’re also incredibly shy, meaning finding crocodiles to examine and collect DNA samples from in the wild has long been a challenge.

The future of the West African slender-snouted crocodile will likely depend on the success of captive breeding and reintroduction programs, according to the researchers.

‘We hope that this better understanding of slender-snouted crocodile evolution and taxonomy draws much-needed attention to the plight of this species, which has long been recognized as the least known crocodilian in the world,’ said Dr Shirley.

The researchers published their findings in Zootaxa.

 

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