West African slender-snouted crocodile

The West African slender-snouted crocodile (Mecistops cataphractus) is a critically endangered species of African crocodile.[5] It is one of five species of crocodile in Africa, the other four being the Central African slender-snouted, Nile, West African and dwarf crocodiles.

West African slender-snouted crocodile
Temporal range: MioceneRecent, 11.6–0 Ma[1]
Crocodylus cataphractus faux-gavial d'Afrique2.JPG
West African slender-snouted crocodile
CITES Appendix I (CITES)[3]
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Crocodilia
Family: Crocodylidae
Genus: Mecistops
M. cataphractus
Binomial name
Mecistops cataphractus
(Cuvier, 1825)
  • Crocodylus cataphractus Cuvier, 1825
  • Mecistops bennettii Gray, 1844

The slender-snouted crocodile (M. cataphractus) was thought to be distributed across west Africa and into central Africa but the central African species has been separated as the Central African slender-snouted crocodile (M. leptorhynchus) based on studies in 2014 and 2018 that indicated that both were distinct species. The name cataphractus is retained for the West African species as that species was described first based on specimens from western Africa.[6] The two species diverged about 6.5–7.5 mya, living in different river drainage zones that were geographically separated from each other by the Cameroon Line.[7]


The genus name Mecistops is most probably derived from the Ancient Greek words μήκιστ (mēkist) meaning "longest" and ὄψις (ópsis) meaning "aspect" or "appearance". The species name cataphractus is thought to be derived from the Greek word κατάφρακτος (katáphraktos) meaning "armoured" or "shielded".[6]


As with its relative, the West African slender-snouted crocodile has a very long, slender snout that it uses to catch fish. They are relatively medium-sized. They prefer to live in dense, vegetated bodies of water.


This species is relatively poorly known with few studies of the wild populations. Consequently, it was rated as Data Deficient by the IUCN in 1996. Following a review in 2014, it was moved to Critically Endangered, although this includes both the Central African and West African species.[2] It appears to have been entirely extirpated from several countries where formerly present and declined elsewhere.[2] In its native range, it is extremely rare and on the verge of disappearing.[7] A study in 2015 that included 24 captive slender-snouted crocodiles in six US zoos (more than 50% of the slender-snouted crocodiles in AZA zoos) found that all were of West African origin, indicating that captive breeding may be important for conservation of this species.[8]


West African slender-snouted crocodile occurs widely in West Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, southern Senegal, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, southern Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Togo) and extends into Cameroon in Central Africa.[4]


  1. ^ Rio, Jonathan P.; Mannion, Philip D. (6 September 2021). "Phylogenetic analysis of a new morphological dataset elucidates the evolutionary history of Crocodylia and resolves the long-standing gharial problem". PeerJ. 9: e12094. doi:10.7717/peerj.12094. PMC 8428266. PMID 34567843.
  2. ^ a b c Shirley, M.H. (2014). "Mecistops cataphractus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2014: e.T5660A3044332. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2014-1.RLTS.T5660A3044332.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  3. ^ "Appendices | CITES". cites.org. Retrieved 2022-01-14.
  4. ^ a b Mecistops cataphractus at the Reptarium.cz Reptile Database. Accessed 30 January 2020.
  5. ^ Brochu, C. A.; Storrs, G. W. (2012). "A giant crocodile from the Plio-Pleistocene of Kenya, the phylogenetic relationships of Neogene African crocodylines, and the antiquity of Crocodylus in Africa". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 32 (3): 587. doi:10.1080/02724634.2012.652324. S2CID 85103427.
  6. ^ a b Shirley, M. H.; Carr, A. N.; Nestler, J. H.; Vliet, K. A.; Brochu, C. A. (2018-10-24). "Systematic revision of the living African Slender-snouted Crocodiles (Mecistops Gray, 1844)". Zootaxa. 4504 (2): 151–193. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4504.2.1. ISSN 1175-5334. PMID 30486023.
  7. ^ a b Shirley, M. H.; Vliet, K. A.; Carr, A. N.; Austin, J. D. (2014). "Rigorous approaches to species delimitation have significant implications for African crocodilian systematics and conservation". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 281 (1776): 20132483. doi:10.1098/rspb.2013.2483. PMC 3871313. PMID 24335982.
  8. ^ Shirley, M. H.; Villanova, V. L.; Vliet, K. A.; Austin, J. D. (2015). "Genetic barcoding facilitates captive and wild management of three cryptic African crocodile species complexes". Animal Conservation. 18 (4): 322–330. doi:10.1111/acv.12176.