Nile crocodile, Crocodylus niloticus, Long History with great aspiration in Egypt
The Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) was historically revered for its strength and utilized as guardians to the pharaohs and priests of ancient Egypt. It was familiar during the ancient Egyptian times, that some creatures were venerated by the Ancient Egyptians. In other words, the Pharaohs did not worship the creature itself but the obvious feature in that creature. There were many examples for this habit; Glossy Ibis was venerated and named as THUT in reference to the God of wisdom; Crocodile headed man was venerated and named as Sobek in reference to the God of power. To honor Sobek, a huge temple was constructed in Kom Ombo 200 BC where people worshiped him as the soul of strength.
However, by the 1950’s crocodiles were virtually eradicated from the River Nile. The construction of the High Dam at Aswan and subsequent impoundment of Lake Nasser gave the Nile crocodile a second chance in Egypt and by the 1980’s were again seen irregularly. The vast, remote, highly productive habitat of Lake Nasser accelerated the revival of the crocodile population and by the 1990’s crocodiles were a common fixture of the biological landscape. Soon thereafter fishermen started becoming vocal about their numbers and the impact of crocodiles on their lives and livelihoods, prompting the Nature Conservation Sector to consider management strategies for this wildlife resource.
In 2008 the Nature Conservation Sector, Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs recognized the potential of the Nile crocodile as an economic resource, and in turn, their sustainable utilization as an answer to the demands of the large and influential Lake Nasser fishing community. A crocodile monitoring program was initiated at this time with the aims of instituting some form of crocodile harvest. The first two years of the program met with great success and resulted in trained personnel, preliminary estimates of population size, indicators of abundance for continued monitoring efforts, and collaborations with international specialists (IUCN/CSG).
In 2009, the Egyptian Crocodile Management Unit was established to oversee future crocodile management and related activities. Radio telemetry studies have been launched to study the spatial ecology of the species in Lake Nasser to better understand the home range, habitat use, and population dynamics of this species. In 2010, we further advanced our efforts by successfully petitioning CITES to down-list the Egyptian Nile crocodile population from Appendix I to Appendix II. While we were issued a Zero quota, we consider this a critical first step to catalyze sustainable development, including regular monitoring, law enforcement, public awareness and ecotourism, of this species in Egypt.
Now is the time to capitalize on the momentum created by this initial program and we therefore propose the initiation of a formal, government-sponsored Crocodile Management Unit. This Unit will have the following mission statement:
“To protect the crocodiles of Egypt and support the betterment of Egyptians through sustainable utilization of the crocodile natural resource.”
The value of crocodiles as a sustainable natural resource is widely recognized and can include benefits to both the Egyptian government, in the form of a self-sustaining management program and international recognition, and the Egyptian people through employment, tourism, and direct harvest. However, conservation and development for crocodile management cannot proceed without an existing infrastructure. At the beginning of 2016, the Egyptian government indicated their aspiration to launch the first crocodile farm this year coupled with the implementation of a long term conservation strategy. . There are many challenges facing such a program concerning the sustainability, overexploitation pressures, high marketing competition and limited community engagement in management/ conservation plans. The successful utilization of the species could be a pioneer experiment that could be done with other natural resources in Egypt.