Status and Distribution of Crocodiles and Pangolins in Kakum Conservation Area, Cape Coast, Ghana

Kakum Conservation Area (KCA) is a protected area block of Upper Guinea Forest that is home to the newly recognized West African dwarf crocodile Osteolaemus sp. nov. cf. tetraspis (Eaton et al., 2009, Shirley et al. 2014, 2015) – an integrally protected species locally (Ghana Wildlife Division, 1996). It is currently under evaluation for the IUCN Red List and likely merits Endangered status -elevated from Vulnerable (M. Shirley, pers. comm.). The presence of the Critically Endangered West African slender-snouted crocodile (Mecistops cataphractus) is suspected in KCA (Shirley, 2007). In addition, KCA is home to tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) and black-bellied pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla) (Yeboah, 1998), both listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and considered among the most trafficked mammals globally. All 3 species of crocodile and all 3 species of pangolin in Ghana are severely threatened with habitat loss, encroachment, poaching for meat and medicinal uses both locally and internationally (Shirley, 2007; Shirley et al., 2009; Boakye et al., 2015).

Our preliminary investigation in KCA and its fringe communities indicate that our target species are among the most poached animals in the conservation area. Conservation and management of these species is seriously hampered in the KCA, nationally, and throughout West Africa by lack of information on the population status, detailed distribution, and even the basics of ecology like habitat selection. In addition, these species are not traditionally on the Ghanaian conservation agenda, falling low down on the priority list behind elephants and chimpanzees, which has resulted in a total lack of awareness by both local people and conservation authorities on their declining status and the importance of conserving them as wildlife resources for Ghana’s future. The IUCN/SSC Crocodile and Pangolin Specialist Groups have identified population-level studies on these species as the highest research priority to ensure a base from which long-term monitoring and management can be implemented (Challender et al., 2014; Eaton 2010; Shirley 2010). This project being sponsored by Earthwatch Institute via the Shulman Awards aims to assess the current population status, distribution, and threats to crocodiles and pangolins in KCA, including determination of traditional and evolving use of crocodiles and pangolins by local communities surrounding KCA; and also carryout conservation awareness in the fringe communities of KCA to promote long term survival of the species.