The West African crocodile is a species of crocodile that is often confused with the larger and more aggressive Nile crocodile. This successful predator has a streamlined body that enables it to swim swiftly; it also tucks its feet to the side while swimming, making it faster by decreasing water resistance. The eyes, ears, and nostrils are located on top of the head, allowing the crocodile to lie low in the water, almost totally submerged and hidden from prey. It has very good night vision and can hear well.
West African crocodiles are found in much of West and Central Africa, ranging east to South Sudan and Uganda, and south to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Other countries where it occurs include Mauritania, Benin, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Gabon, Togo, Ivory Coast and the Republic of Congo. They generally prefer lagoons and wetlands in forested regions, and inhabit river basins and mangrove swamps, and are tolerant of brackish waters. In some areas, West African crocodiles are adapted to the arid desert environment of the Sahara-Sahel where they stay in caves or burrows.
West African crocodiles are semiaquatic reptiles and are able to move quickly over short distances, even out of water. They are social and even though they do not form groups, in some areas they may come into contact with other crocodile species. When it rains, West African crocodiles often gather at gueltas (a pocket of water that forms in drainage canals or wadis in the Sahara). These reptiles are mainly nocturnal and during the day they typically bask or cool off in the water if needed. They are ambush predators and hunt by waiting for fish or land animals to come close, then rushing out to attack. Being ectothermic (cold-blooded) predators, they have a very slow metabolism, so they can survive long periods without food. Despite their appearance of being slow, crocodiles have a very fast strike and are top predators in their environment.
Female West African crocodiles usually lay from 40 to 60 eggs and are highly protective of their nests and young. The average incubation period is around 60-100 days and the gender of hatchlings is determined by temperature. At 30 °C (86 °F) or less most hatchlings are females and at 31 °C (88 °F), offspring are of both sexes. A temperature of 32 to 33 °C (90 to 91 °F) gives mostly males. At the time of hatching, the young start calling within the eggs. They have an egg-tooth at the tip of their snouts, which is developed from the skin, and that helps them pierce out of the shell. Hearing the calls, the female usually excavates the nest and sometimes takes the unhatched eggs in her mouth, slowly rolling the eggs to help the process. The young are usually carried to the water in the mouth. She would then introduce her hatchlings to the water and even feed them. After a while, the young join a crèche of juveniles, which is looked after by females. West African crocodiles become reproductively mature when they are around 10 years old.
The main threats to West African crocodiles include habitat loss and humans. These reptiles are hunted for the meat trade and for their skin, which is used in the production of high-quality leather. They are also often considered pests for attempting to remove caught fish from fishing nets which as a result leads to conflict between the crocodiles and fishermen.
The West African crocodile population number is unavailable at present from open sources and its conservation status has not been evaluated.