A group of scientists has found a new species of crocodile in Africa. The Central African slender-snouted crocodile, which is the first new ‘living crocodile’ species to be discovered in nearly 85 years, was declared in a recent issue of the Zootaxa journal.
“The African slender-snouted, or sharp-nosed, crocodile (Mecistops cataphractus ) is medium-sized, lives in freshwater habitats, and, as its name suggests, has a long and slender snout,” lead researcher, Dr. Matthew Shirley of Florida International University’s Tropical Conservation Institute, stated.
“At first glance, the West African and Central African slender-snouted crocodiles appear quite similar,” the group of scientists documented in the research papers. “In addition to the differences in their DNA, we found differences in the skull shape and scales that strongly support the existence of two species.”
The new species mainly faces threat through habitat loss, hunting and overfishing.
“Recognizing the slender-snouted crocodile as actually comprised of two different species is cause for great conservation concern,” Shirley explained. “We estimate only 10% of slender-snouted crocodiles occur in West Africa, effectively diminishing its population by 90%. This makes the West African slender-snouted crocodile one of the most critically endangered crocodile species in the world.”
The crocodiles' habitat ranges from coastal Cameroon to western Tanzania. The species was first noted in 1824, but slender-snout crocodiles tend to live in very remote freshwater areas and are well-camouflaged in thick vegetation to avoid human interference.
“When we analyzed the DNA and physical characteristics of crocodiles in the wild and in captivity in six African countries, we found two distinct species of slender-snouted crocodiles: one unique to West Africa and one unique to Central Africa.”
Genetics show the two crocs diverged about 8 million years ago. The team of scientists was only able to collect samples from 15 to 20 animals.