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West African Slender-snouted Crocodile

Mecistops cataphractus


The West African slender-snouted crocodile is known for its unmistakable long and slender snout, which lacks any bony ridges.

The West African slender-snouted crocodile is a unique, elusive and poorly-known crocodilian. The crocodile has a long, slender snout which is perfectly adapted for capturing fish—the main source of food for the species. Female slender-snouted crocodiles show incredibly attentive parental care after laying their clutch. the mothers will guard their nests until their offspring hatch. Once hatched, the hatchlings begin to make squeaking noises. This triggers the female to uncover the nest, scoop the hatchlings into her jaws and then carry them into water.

Surprisingly, the closest living relatives of crocodilians are birds! The two groups diverged more than 230 million years ago, around the same time as the emergence of their infamous cousins, the dinosaurs. Slender-snouted crocodiles diverged from all other crocodilians more than 20 million years ago, and have been evolving in isolation ever since.

The West African slender-snouted crocodile is a very shy species and is under threat from fishing practices, human disturbance, hunting, habitat degradation and fragmentation across its entire range. The species is listed as Critically Endangered when considering its entire population, from The Gambia in the west to Tanzania in the east. However, recent research has revealed the West African populations of slender-snouted crocodile to be genetically distinct from the Central African populations. The two populations diverged 6-8 million years ago, around the same time humans and chimpanzees last shared a common ancestor.

Consequently, the West African slender-snouted crocodile is now considered a distinct species awaiting formal description. This impending split of the two species means both occur over much smaller areas, and may face a considerably greater risk of extinction than previously thought.

There are currently very limited conservation actions targeting this species, although there are some national parks being established within their range. There is also a recently renewed initiative to develop captive breeding and reintroduction programmes in certain parts of the range.

  • Order: Crocodylia
  • Family: Crocodylidae
  • Population: 1,000-20,000
  • Trend: decreasing
  • Size: 4 m (?)
  • Weight: Unspecified

EDGE Score

EDGE Score: 5.76363313 (?)
ED Score: 18.9064621 (?)
GE / IUCN Red List (?)
Not Evaluated Data Deficient Least Concern Near Threatened Vulnerable Endangered Critically Endangered Extinct in the Wild Extinct


This species is found throughout Central and Western Africa, from Lake Tanganyika in the east to the Gambia River in the west. However, it is likely that the species will be split into two, with the West African population becoming a distinct species. It occurs from sea level up to 600 metres altitude.

Habitat and Ecology

This species lives in forested rivers and other densely vegetated bodies of water such as freshwater lagoons. Females lay around 16 eggs at the start of the annual wet season in mound nests. Young tend to feed on small fish and invertebrates, adults are primarily piscivorous but have been observed eating mammals, turtles and birds.

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Conservation Actions

For each key category of conservation action, we calculated a conservation attention score based on expert information. In this graph, a higher score means the action is being carried out more intensively over more of the species range. The colour shows how important each action is considered to be for the conservation of this species.

Engaging stakeholders
Addressing threats
Status of knowledge
Management plan
Capacity building
Behaviour change
Awareness raising
  Score: 100 means the activity occurs at high level across more than 75% of the species range
Very Low

Overall Conservation Attention

We combined all of the expert information on conservation actions to calculate an overall conservation attention score for this species. Please help us to reach our goal of establishing dedicated conservation attention at “High” levels for all EDGE species.

Very Low Low Medium High

More information

Recent studies have grouped all possible conservation activities for any species into nine key categories (Washington et. al 2015). For each action, we asked experts for each species to assess the extent to which that action is being carried out and how much of the species’ range that action occurs in. For each action we used these two pieces of information to calculate the conservation attention score per action. A score of 100 means that the action is being carried out to a high level across at least 75% of the species range. We then combined the scores for all actions into an overall conservation attention score for the species. The experts also judged how important each category was to the conservation of that particular species.

This wordcloud illustrates the threats facing this species. The size of each word indicates the extent of a species range that is affected by that threat (larger size means a greater area is affected). The colour of the word indicates how much that threat impacts the species (darker shades of red mean the threat is more severe).

Urban development Habitat change Droughts Extreme temperatures Crops Wood plantations Fossil fuel Mining Dams Ecosystem changes Wastewater Agriculture

Threat wordcloud key:

Small area affected
Large area affected
Least severe
Most severe
Severity unknown
Source: The IUCN List of Threatened Species. Version 2017.1.
Available at:

Download the survival blueprint for this species below. Each survival blueprint is compiled by an EDGE fellow working on the species with input from collaborators and stakeholders. The survival blueprint provides a status review (information on the distribution, protection status, habitat & ecology, threat and stakeholder analysis) and more information on the action programme listed here. 

Vision (30-50 years)

Discover and protect all the remnant subpopulations of West African slender-snouted crocodiles in Ghana.

Goal (5-10 years)

Protect the remnants of West African slender-snouted crocodile in Ghana by mitigating threats through a collaborative approach.


Conserve critical nesting areas of West African slender-snouted crocodile subpopulations at Obuasi and Tanoso Critical
Survey the extents of Tano and the Jimi watershed to estimate the populations of West Africa slender-snouted crocodiles Critical
Conduct ecological studies necessary for the species’ conservation in Ghana Critical
Create community-based protected areas such as Community Resources Management Areas (CREMA) across critical habitats of the species in Ghana Critical
Continuously promote public awareness to mitigate threats of the species Critical
Initiate long-term population monitoring across known habitat of the species High
Strengthen and build local capacity (e.g. local volunteers, traditional leaders etc.) to enhance the species’ conservation High
Initiate and promote sustainable community-based ecotourism High

Christine Kouman

  • Project name: Evaluation of the success of and generating local community support for Mecistops cataphractus reintroductions in Taï National Park, Côte d’Ivoire.
  • Project site: Taï National Park
  • Active: 2020 - 2023
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Emmanuel Amoah

  • Project name: Assessment and Conservation of Mecistops cataphractus and Osteolaemus sp. nov. cf. tetraspis in Ghana
  • Project site: Northern and Ashanti region, Ghana
  • Active: 2017 - ongoing
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