The newly discovered West African Slender-snouted Crocodile, believed to be critically endangered, is struggling for survival with the help of Ivory Coast's main zoo that was nearly obliterated during its 2011 civil war. Elly Park reports.
When conservationist Matt Shirley discovered the world's newest crocodile species a few years ago, the excitement quickly wore off as it was on a path to extinction. Now the West African Slender-snouted Crocodiles's fate is tied to this zoo in Ivory Coast's Abidjan, home to some three dozen adult animals, the largest captive population in the world. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CONSERVATION BIOLOGIST, MATT SHIRLEY SAYING: "It makes it a very critical institute for the future of the species. It means that we have the potential to live the dream of this team in the eighties and re-implement captive breeding, take those babies and re-put them back in the wild for either re-stocking areas that have gone extinct or augmenting populations that are just hanging on by a thread." But the zoo faced an uncertain future itself. Gun battles raged in surrounding neighborhoods during the country's civil war in 2011. The memories are still fresh for Tia Lama, who has worked here for nearly 25 years. (SOUNDBITE) (French) ZOO WORKER, TIA LAMA SAYING: "There was nothing to eat especially for the primates who like to eat papaya tree leaves. We had to go outside to get them food to eat. There were personnel who were stepping over dead bodies to go out looking for food." Today, the zoo is slowly recovering. New animals have been brought in, and the breeding efforts have produced around 40 young crocodiles - some who are now two years old. Shirley says Ivory Coast is a key hub for the reintroduction of the reptiles into the wild. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CONSERVATION BIOLOGIST, MATT SHIRLEY SAYING: "It has some fairly decent forest blocks, it has a decent network of protected areas, has some interesting community conservation areas that we are finding that we can actually work with the people and re-stock." No more than 1,500 West African Slender-snouted Crocodiles are believed to exist in the wild stretching from Gambia to Nigeria.