Matthew Shirley (USA) believes that, by putting a ‘face’ on the environment, species can strengthen the bond between people and the natural resources on which they depend, providing conservationists with a platform for environmental management and conservation gains. Crocodilians are among the most worshipped species throughout history and, despite being nearly universally feared, they inspire awe with their dinosaur-like appearance and unique natural histories.
This vision has manifested itself in his approach with crocodiles and led to the creation of Project Mecistops – ensuring the future of Africa’s most Critically Endangered crocodilian: the West African slender-snouted crocodile (Mecistops cataphractus) through captive breeding and reintroduction. Habitat loss and historical hunting have threatened this species, and small, fragmented populations now impede its recovery despite regional and national efforts to improve protected areas networks.
To combat this, Matthew and his team are captive breeding slender-snouted crocodiles at the Abidjan National Zoo for reintroduction to reinforce or revive crocodile populations in Cote d’Ivoire’s national parks and wilderness areas. Their breeding colony of 34 adults has produced 42 hatchlings since 2013. They are in the process of evaluating 4 national parks and 10 forest reserves for ecological and socio-economic suitability as reintroduction sites. They hope to start reintroducing the first captive-bred crocodiles by 2017.
The West African slender-snouted crocodile is quickly becoming a platform from which Matthew’s team is making significant contributions to burgeoning wildlife conservation efforts in Cote d’Ivoire and throughout the region. They continue to ensure that regional authorities recognize crocodiles as a key species for management, monitoring, and conservation action.
“Matthew Shirley has sheer commitment to threatening but threatened species – crocodiles, which have few friends in Africa – and the persistence to combine science – and community-based approaches to conservation in countries with very weak conservation traditions. His clear personal courage, charisma, and strong science base – from molecular to ecosystems – is impressive.” – 2016, Brian Huntley, International Selection Commitee