It had long been believed that there are three species of crocodiles in Africa, but we now know that there could be at least seven. The most recent study shows that a slender-snouted crocodile that was believed to be one species is actually two. The announcement comes from Matthew Shirley from the University of Florida and was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Crocodilians have been on this planet for about 220 million years but there are some very fundamental things that we don’t know about them. There isn’t a great deal of information about how their population ranges have changed over time or even about their current biogeography.
Genetic analysis was performed on two different populations of the iconic slender snout crocodile, one in West Africa, the other in Central Africa. The team was shocked when they found that one species was actually two. Their genomes suggest that they diverged about 7 million years ago. Additionally, they also found minor physical differences between the two species.
After discovering that these crocs are actually different species, conservationists will need to get to work. The full range of each species will need to be documented in order to understand its conservation status. Now conservationists need to ensure that the species are correctly accounted for, so that each can receive the level of care it requires. Because resources can be scarce, they don’t want to accidentally give more care to an animal that has a stable population. In addition to determining current conservation status, those who are responsible for breeding will need to ensure that they are not creating hybrids of the two species. To increase numbers and create stable populations of crocodiles, they need to make sure that breeding efforts are species-specific.
The crocodiles in Africa face similar troubles to American crocs. About 50 years ago, crocodiles in America were the victims of rampant poaching and habitat destruction which nearly driven to extinction. After they were given protected status, the numbers rebounded and locations in the southeastern United States get considerable economic boost from tourists who want to see these animals in their natural habitat.
It is hoped that by correctly identifying the crocodiles and giving them proper conservation attention, they will be able to rebound in numbers. Because they are an apex predator in their environments, losing these creatures could have dire consequences for bodies of water all over Africa.