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Slender-snouted Crocodile (Narrow-jawed Crocodile, African Gharial


Image (c) R S Funk, crocodilian.com

Population is rapidly declining


Order: Crocodylia

Family: Crocodylidae

Subfamily: Crocodylinae

Genus & Species: Crocodylus cataphractus

APPEARANCE

The slender-snouted crocodile is a poorly known and poorly understood crocodile. It lives in such an impenetrable area that many things, such as average weight in the wild, are just not available. Slender-snouted crocodiles are medium-sized crocodiles, ranging from 10-13 ft (3-3.9 m) in length. The males may be slightly larger than the females, attaining a maximum length of 14 ft (4.2 m).

Slender-snouted crocodiles are named after their rather narrow and long specialized snout. The snout rivals that of the Australian freshwater crocodile in appearance, and gives it the common name of the African gharial after another slender-snouted crocodilian the gharial. The nostrils are positioned at the tip of the snout, and just above the beginning of the mouth are the eyes. The ear slits are behind the eyes. The nostrils, eyes, and ears are located on the same plane on the relatively flat head. This allows the slender-snouted crocodile to breathe, smell, see, and hear while almost completely submerged underwater. The eyes are protected by a third clear eyelid known as a nictitating membrane, which allows the crocodile to see while underwater. The mouth contains between 64-70 teeth, with between 14-18 teeth on either side of the top and bottom jaws. The fourth tooth on either side of the bottom jaw is larger than the others and fits into a notch on the upper jaw. These are visible when the mouth is closed.

Slender-snouted crocodiles differ from other crocodiles in a few ways. The back of the neck is protected by 3-4 rows of scales, whereas other crocodiles have only 2 rows. The back is entirely covered in a series of scutes (bony plates). Colour varies greatly, anywhere from grey-green to almost black. Blotches are present on the jaw, even though these blotches are found more on gharials and some alligators than on crocodiles. Slender-snouted crocodiles are thought to be rather aggressive and are feared by the tribes of Lower Guinea. They have a life span of 50+ years. Their call is said to sound like that of a truck exhaust backfiring.

HABITAT

Slender-snouted crocodiles are found in Central and West Africa, from Mauritania and Senegal to North Angola east to Zaire, Zambia and East Tanzania. They spend most of their lives on the water and prefer freshwater over saltwater, although they do have a tolerance for salinity. They can be found in freshwater riverine habitats and lakes, as well as coastal and brackish waters. They have even been found on offshore islands, having swam there from Africa's coast. Slender-snouted crocodiles can be found in the drainage systems of the Congo, Niger, and Ogoue Rivers, as well as Lakes Mweru and Tanganyika.

FOOD

Juveniles prey on invertebrates such as insects. Older individuals may feed on crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp, as well as frogs, fish, birds, and small mammals. In the zoo they are fed fish and rats.

Slender-snouted crocodiles have a limited diet due to the shape of their snout, and feed primarily on fish. To hunt, they swim parallel to the river bank, curve their tail, and trap the fish in the shallows.

ENEMIES

There is little information on the conservation of this species, but it appears that populations are declining everywhere. The slender-snouted crocodile may even be extirpated from Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, and Zambia. The reason for this is primarily changing habitat conditions, removal of riverside vegetation, and hunting for meats and skins. Although the skins are not too valuable, they are sought more now with the decline of the Nile crocodile. Populations are low in most countries, but hunting still occurs. No ranching or farming has been attempted, even thought there is plenty of suitable habitat for them to be released in. They are considered to be endangered.

Juveniles may be preyed upon by soft-shelled turtles.

BREEDING

The nesting season generally occurs with the onset of the rainy season, between March and July. The females makes the mound nest at the riverbank. Between 13-27 eggs are laid (although some sources say 40-90). The eggs hatch after a 110-day incubation period, and the animals disperse with minimal casualties.

RELATIVES

The slender-snouted crocodile has no subspecies.

RESOURCES CITED

1. "Narrow-jawed Crocodile) Animal Card, 1975, Italy
2. www.flmnh.ufl.edu/natsci/herpetology/brittoncrocs/csp_ccat.htm
3. www.flmnh.ufl.edu/natsci/herpetology/act-plan/ccata.htm
4. www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/crocs/whos/nojs.html#10
5. endangered.fws.gov/freptil1.html
6. www.zooregon.org/cards/Rainforest/crocodile.african.slender.snouted.htm
7. www.worldzoo.org/abstract/abs00593.htm (cached at www.google.com)

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