Cote d’Ivoire is well-known as the world’s leading cocoa producer or as the home of the Africa Cup Champion Elephants but did you know it has a national zoo that has garnered international attention? If you were not aware of this fact, you are not alone, but the National Zoo in Abidjan now has the largest captive population of West African slender-snouted crocodiles in the world. This population of breeding age, adult crocodiles has become the greatest hope for the survival of this species in the wild.
Over two years, zoo experts from Albuquerque, New Mexico have visited Abidjan to see first-hand these rare crocodiles and offer assistance to their Ivoirian counterparts. The program began in January 2014 with an initial visit by Matt Eschenbrenner, a supervisor in Herpetology at the Albuquerque BioPark, and Dr. Ralph Zimmerman, the Head Veterinarian of the BioPark. They were interested in the rare species of crocodiles at the zoo and they offered to provide expertise in managing the crocodile program. During their 19 day visit, the pair performed hands-on exams, addressed dietary issues, medicated and treated crocodiles, wrote egg collecting and incubating protocols and helped construct an egg incubator. With these specific goals met, the duo departed Abidjan in late January of 2014. Within 2 months of the Americans’ departure, the zoo staff collected eggs from freshly built nests and deposited them in the newly constructed incubator. In June of that year, 24 West African slender-snouted crocodiles were born at the zoo. This was the first reproduction of slender-snouted crocodiles at the facility since the 1990’s. In June and July of 2015, 26 more neonate crocodiles were born which meant that in two breeding seasons the zoo has doubled the population known to exist in the wild.
Upon the return of Eschenbrenner and Zimmermann to Albuquerque, planning for a follow-up visit began immediately. This time the plan called for five staff members to make the trip to Abidjan in September 2015 and stay for 12 days. With the combined talents of these individuals, the Albuquerque BioPark hoped to make a much bigger impact on the zoo in Abidjan by covering every animal area on its grounds.
On September 12th of this year, the American team was introduced to the staff at the zoo and hit the ground running. Within the first 4 days of working together, the Americans and Ivoirians moved six chimpanzees to new enclosures. They also performed health examinations and blood analysis on the yearling slender-snouted crocodiles born in June and July of 2014 along with 12 adult slender-snouted crocodiles. Data collection from these examinations will provide insight on the internal health of the crocodiles and allow dietary changes to be made accordingly. It will also ensure that only healthy specimens will be released into the wild and thereby improve the chances for self-sustainability.
According to Eschenbrenner, the most valuable part of their visits was the bond that has been formed between the BioPark team and the staff at the National Zoo. Despite the 6705 miles between Albuquerque and Abidjan, everyone realized that “we are here for the same purpose and have the same passion.” He says, “The staff at the ZNA (national zoo) is comprised of hard working dedicated individuals and having the opportunity to work alongside them is an honor. They work 6 days a week, and many showed up on their day off to assist in projects going on around the zoo. During the crisis they slept at the zoo, right alongside their animals to protect them from potential harm. That is dedication that is hard to find no matter where you are in the world.”