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AZA Crocodilian Advisory Group's Conservation Efforts

Through the CAG's fundraising efforts, we have partnered with other crocodilian groups (IUCN Crocodile Specialist Group, the Wildlife Conservation Society & the Gharial Conservation Alliance) internationally to support conservation, research & education projects. Some of these projects include:

  • Habitat restoration & reintroduction (including radio tracking) of the Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis).
  • Funding of international workshops for Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis) conservation.
  • Habitat surveys for the Malay gharial (Tomistoma schlegelii).
  • Survey equipment for population surveys of the Indian gharial (Gavialis gangeticus).
  • Funding of travel for crocodilian biologists to India during the large die-off of the Indian Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) in December of 2007.
  • Community level education & conservation programs for the Philippine Crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis).

Siamese Crocodile Relocation

Recently Lonnie McCaskill returned from an emergency trip to Cambodia to assist in the capture and relocation of a breeding population of Siamese crocodiles (Crocodylus siamensis).

Siamese crocodiles are a Critically Endangered species and with the approval of construction of a hydropower dam in Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains, swift action is being taken to help save an estimated 30 to 40 individuals. With the construction of the dam, many migrant workers will enter the area and strip anything of value from the land, including crocodiles. With 5% of the worlds breeding population residing in the area, immediate action is required to help relocate the rare species.

With emergency funds provided by the CAG, Mr. McCaskill was able to travel to the location and help lend his expertise in the trapping and handling of Simaese crocs. They are naturally a very wary species and spotting them in the water proves to be difficult much less getting your hands on one. After 4 days of setting out various styles of traps and much patience, they were successful. The large male they captured was quickly and safely secured before being transported first by boat, then by truck to his new home. Efforts in this grand endeavor are still taking place today and will contiune through the end of April 2013, and begin again in November with the start of the dry season. Much more assistance is needed to save as many of these rare animals as possible.

Chinese Alligator

The Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis) is a relatively small species, reaching lengths of about 2 meters. It is one of the world’s most endangered crocodilians. Although they were once widely distributed in China’s lower Yangzi River basin, individuals are now restricted to the southeastern Anhui Province. Wild populations have experienced severe declines, and there may be fewer than 125 adults left in the wild.

This alligator inhabits the area of climatic transition between subtropical and temperate regions of eastern China. They are inactive from late October through mid-April in subterranean dens dug into the edges of ponds, marshes, or rice paddies. Wetlands they formerly occupied have been lost to agriculture. The few remaining adults have little opportunity to reproduce. In 1999, only four females nested in the wild. Eggs were collected and taken to the Anhui Research Center for Chinese Alligator Reproduction (ARCCAR), a breeding center established in 1979. Adults continue to be persecuted. In recent times animals have been shot and poisoned or displaced from their last refuges by drought and floods.

The CAG manages this animal with long-term goals in place to preserve its genetic diversity. They have also been involved in habitat restoration and reintroduction. In fact, an estimated 100 babies have been produced from reintroduced animals on Chongming Island.

Slender-snouted Crocodile

The slender-snouted crocodile (Mecistops cataphractus) is the least known crocodilian in the world with a mere handful of studies addressing the basics of status, distribution and ecology. It is distributed from the Gambia River in West Africa to lakes Tanganyika and Mweru bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo (Shirley 2010). Very little is known of the ecology of Mecistops, though what we do know suggests it is a specialist of forested, freshwater wetland habitats, though in West Africa it can be found in wooded savannah.

Matthew Shirley PhD has spent that last several years in Africa working with these crocodiles and in a recent study has described described two divergent, allopatric lineages within Mecistops whose distribution correspond to the Upper Guinea and Congolian biogeographic zones (Shirley 2013). The geography and timing of this split in mecistops is very similar with the pattern seen in both African dwarf crocodile (Eaton et al. 2009) and the Nile crocodile (Hekkala et al. 2011) where each genera showed a split ±8 million years ago at the Cameroon Volcanic Line. Because of this Shirley et al. (In Prep.) are in the process of describing unique Mecistops species - one in Central Africa and one in West Africa.

The conservation implications of splitting Mecistops into two species are significant. Crocodile population surveys covering ±3000 km of crocodile habitat at nearly 200 sites split evenly between West and Central Africa since 2005 encountered 1,800 individual Mecistops – though only 49 confirmed sightings were in West Africa including 23 in the Upper Guinea region of Ghana, Cote-d’Ivoire, and Liberia (Miller 2010, Shirley et al. 2009) and 26 in a single national park in The Gambia (M. Shirley unpub. data). Further, only three of the 49 animals encountered in West Africa were in the adult size class (> 2m total length). The major threats facing this species include large-scale loss of habitat, illegal hunting for the trade of leather and bushmeat, and conflict with artisanal fisheries. The latest information (summarized in Shirley 2010) suggests that these threats have resulted in highly fragmented, reduced popluations and, as a result, this species may merit a highter threat designation of Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable. Reclassification of M. cataphractus into either of these threat categories automatically makes it one of the top 7 crocodilian conservation priorities globally – and the most critical crocodile conservation priority in Africa.

In the late 1980’s a group of M. cataphractus was established at the Abidjan Zoo as a breeding colony. This group has grown to approximately 34 individuals, all in breeding size classes, making this not only the single largest captive Mecistops colony in the world, but also the most significant in terms of long-term conservation impact. The Ivoirian Ministère des Eaux et Forets has recently prioritized renovation the Abidjan Zoo and, as part of this, identified the value of their captive Mecistops population for both immediate reintroduction and long-term captive breeding for continual augmentation of wild populations throughout the region. We aim to facilitate the Ivoirian government succeed in this critical conservation endeavor by laying the groundwork for the population augmentation through surveys and capacity building and helping establish the breeding colony at the zoo through facilities rehabilitation and keeper training.

View the AZA Crocodilian Advisory Group's Regional Collection Plan

If you would like to make a donation to the Crocodilian Advisory Group, please contact Lori Watkins Lawson at Lori.Watkins.CAG@gmail.com.

100% of your tax deductable donation goes to Crocodilian Research & Conservation of the most endangered crocodilian species.

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