Since 2006, Matthew Shirley’s work on studying the ecology and evolution of African crocodiles in order to establish a basis for their conservation has led him through all of West Africa. Habitat destruction and historical hunting have threatened West Africa’s most critically endangered crocodilian: the West African slender-snouted crocodile. In 2018, Matt discovered that there was a second species hidden: the Central African slender-snouted crocodile. This reduces the population of the ‘West Africans’ to only 500 individuals. To reinforce their dwindled populations in Côte d’Ivoire Matt has established a breeding programme. Moreover, he is determined to make sure that target ecosystems, such as wetlands, will get the focus they so critically need.
As a child, Matthew Shirley preferred having a snake rather than a dog as a pet. His passion for reptiles never subsided, and in 2006 he left America for West Africa to study slender-snouted crocodiles. Since then, his work on studying the ecology and evolution of African crocodiles in order to establish a basis for their conservation has led him through all of West Africa. In Senegal and Gambia, Matthew’s efforts even resulted in the rediscovery of crocodiles that were previously believed to be locally extinct. His efforts led him to be invited as a member of the IUCN/SSC Crocodile Specialist Group in 2009.
“For the coming years, we plan to use the slender-snouted crocodile to support protected areas management so that target ecosystems traditionally ignored in West African protected areas, such as wetlands, get the focus they so critically need."Matthew Shirley
Vision and Approach
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. Habitat destruction and historical hunting have threatened West-Africa’s most Critically Endangered crocodilian: the West African slender-snouted crocodile. Small and fragmented populations hinder their recovery. To combat this, Matthew and his team are breeding slender-snouted crocodiles at the Abidjan National Zoo to reinforce and revive crocodiles in Côte d’Ivoire’s national parks and wilderness areas.
"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."Mr. Brian J. Huntley, International Selection Commitee