Crocodilians are relatively unique among keystone species, serving as apex predators, ecosystem engineers and cultural keystone species. The Congo dwarf crocodile (Osteolaemus osborni), a partially protected species endemic to the Congo Basin, is a prime example. They are the principal apex predator of the peat swamp forests throughout much of the Congo Basin; they act as important top-down and bottom-up trophic regulators in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems; and they are traded in the tens of thousands annually as a key local and regional wild meat resource in the Congo Basin. Harvested crocodiles are both consumed locally and traded as far away as Brazzaville and Kinshasa, as well as showing up in European meat markets to meet the demands of growing Central African expat populations. Ensuring the sustainability of this important wildlife resource has significant implications for local livelihoods and wildlife conservation in places like Congo's Lac Tele Community Reserve.
Harvesting of wild meat, including crocodilians, has long sustained the nutritional and economic needs of millions of people, especially throughout the tropics. However, rapidly growing human populations, advances in technology and infrastructure, and the commercialization of the wildlife trade have resulted in significant declines in wildlife globally. Overharvesting threatens wildlife populations throughout all tropical regions, causing direct impacts to targeted species and indirect effects on ecological process, interacting species and ecosystem services critical for supporting human well-being. We are working to assess the keystone species dynamics of dwarf crocodiles, how those dynamics are impacted by human reliance on dwarf crocodiles as a resource, and the ways in which local communities capitalize on this wildlife resource for livelihood security.
We are working with local Lac Tele Community Reserve partners at WCS and the Congolese government to implement sustainable dwarf crocodile hunting and commercialization practices. In doing so, we are increasing benefits derived from dwarf crocodiles and creating community-based incentives for their sustainable management.
Find more information on the Project Mecistops website.