UU Researcher Discovers Crocs That Time Forgot
12th April 2002
A UU researcher has discovered a new population of cave dwelling crocodiles, never before seen outside their Saharan habitat. PhD student Tara Shine discovered the cave dwelling crocodiles while living in the remote African country of Mauritania as part of a two and a half year volunteer project. Previously unknown, except by local tribespeople, the crocodiles live in burrows and caves throughout the dry season and periods of drought - a phenomenon never before recorded among Nile crocodiles. It is believed the reptiles have adapted their behavior and genetic make-up to suit the unpredictable and arid conditions that have developed in the region over the last five to eight thousand years. The crocodiles are much smaller than any other known species. They measure up to seven feet in length, and lack the aggressive behaviour of their river dwelling cousins. They also migrate in search of water, a behaviour never reported in any other crocodile. Local tribespeople have been protecting the crocodiles for centuries - superstition predicts that their extinction would lead to the drying up of the scarce water supplies - but UU experts fear that the isolation and small size of the crocodile population could pose a threat to their long-term survival. PhD student Tara explained how she came across the cave crocs: "When I first went to Mauritania, the local people told me about the crocodiles that lived in the small rock pools and caves. Initially I didn't believe them, as it seemed impossible - and there had never been any record of crocodiles in this part of the country. But when I went in search for the animals myself, I realized that what they were saying was true," said Tara. "I was delighted to discover the crocodiles after days of searching for them under rocks. I didn't realise exactly how important my find was until a team of top reptile specialists from the Koeing museum in Bonn came out to look at the crocodiles." DNA tests are currently underway to determine the precise genetic make-up of the new crocodiles, Tara has just returned from a research visit to Mauritania.