Crocodiles in Uganda
Crocodiles have been around for a very long time in Africa and many legends exist about them in African folklore. They mostly live in protected areas these days because outside they are hunted by people because of the threat they pose to human life. Crocodiles, while fearsome, have a gentle side and show parental care with the mother guarding her clutch of eggs for 2-3 months before they hatch and then guarding the baby crocodiles in the water until they are large enough to fend for themselves. They mostly eat fish or small ungulates where they can catch them and this is another reason they are usually found in parks where ungulates are abundant.
Three species of crocodile have been recorded in Uganda. The dwarf crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis) was recorded in rivers flowing into lake George up until the 1950s. It has not been sighted recently and may be extinct in Uganda although it is possible that it might survive in the swamp to the north of Lake George in Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP). The Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) is the most widespread in the country and can be seen in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls National Park, along various stretches of the Nile River and in Lakes Albert and Victoria. A newly described species in 2012, C. suchus, lives in Kidepo Valley National Park. Initially thought to be a subspecies of the Nile Crocodile, this species is genetically quite distinct. It has been confirmed as the species used by the temple priests in ancient Egypt, who recognized two species of crocodile in the Nile River and selectively mummified the smaller species for use in the pharoah’s tombs. The Kidepo Valley population is the last known population of this species near the Nile River, but several occur in the Sahel region in West Africa.
WCS activities to conserve crocodiles in Uganda
WCS has been surveying crocodiles in Uganda with the support of WCS conservationists Matt Shirley and the late John Thorbijarnesen. We have surveyed the populations in Queen Elizabeth NP, Murchison Falls NP and Kidepo Valley NP. Tissue samples collected in Kidepo were used to identify the new crocodile species and a project led by WCS’ Carol Bogezi was undertaken to estimate their numbers and habitat requirements. We would like to continue a project to conserve the new crocodile species in Kidepo but are looking for funding to implement this.
Main threats to crocodiles in Uganda
Crocodiles are threatened outside Protected Areas. They are very often killed because they pose a threat to people, particularly fishermen on Lakes Victoria, and Albert. They are not hugely threatened within Protected Areas, but there is still a lot we do not know about these animals. For instance, crocodiles have been drawn to soak-away pits of water at drilling sites in Murchison Falls National Park – often several kilometers from theriver. It is clear that they are moving quite large distances at night overlandbut we do not know why. Egg collecting for the farming of crocodiles still continues in Murchison Falls NP despite the fact that the 10-year licence expired in the early 2000s.
The main threat to C. suchus is likely to be the increased drying of the region due to global warming. Kidepo Valley NP is already a fairly dry park with one wet season each year. In the dry season these animals aestivate (like hibernating) to escape the heat in the remaining mud. However, sites where they can do this are increasingly limited.