Scientists amazed by crocodiles in Sahara

Crocodiles living in the Sahara sounds like fiction, but Spanish scientists are investigating such a group in southern Mauritania.

The reptiles are regarded as the last remains of the abundant crocodile population that roamed the Sahara before it dried up about 9 000 years ago.

The group of a few dozen crocodiles subsists at a pond near the Senegalese border, said veterinary Prof Eduardo Costa, of Madrid’s Complutense University.

The pond, measuring about 100 square metres, is located 200km from the nearest river, the daily El Mundo reported.

French students first discovered the crocodiles in the late 1990s. The ancestors of the animals are believed to have taken refuge near water when the once-green Sahara was turning into a desert.

Spanish scientists found the pond to contain large amounts of micro-organisms, which make conditions favourable for weeds. These nourish fish that the crocodiles feed on.

The delicate ecosystem has remained functional despite its small size for millennia, experts said, describing it as a “unique ecological phenomenon”.

“I was struck by the active life of the crocodiles, the presence of quite a few young ones and the amount of fish they were eating,” said Fernando Hiraldo, an investigator at a research station belonging to the Donana National Park in southern Spain.

Costa believes the crocodiles have survived because they are located far from human settlements.

Even today, local people believe that killing the crocodiles will cause the pond to dry up. In exchange, the crocodiles never attack goats or other domestic animals that come to drink from the well.

Costa said the Mauritanian desert is known to house only one other such group of crocodiles, several hundred kilometres away.

The last crocodiles of the Sahara could well be doomed, if their presence becomes known and begins to draw tourists, Costa added.

The threat could also come from the local animal herders, Hiraldo said, adding he has seen traces of pesticides and anti-parasite medicines around the pond.—Sapa-DPA

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