The aim of the project was to combine the rich cultural history of crocodile worship and faith to modern conservation practices to conserve critically endangered crocodiles. Crocodiles have received little research and conservation attention in Ghana mainly because of negative image and publicity and funding difficulties. Three species are native to West Africa: the slender-snouted crocodile Mecistops cataphractus (CR), the African dwarf crocodile Osteolaemus tetraspis (VU) and Nile crocodile Crocodylus niloticus. These species are faced with threats from unwarranted persecutions, habitat destruction and incidental by-catch from fishing nets and hunting. In attempting to address these problems, four main activities were undertaken in this project, namely, stakeholder forum, ecological surveys, socio-economic surveys, and conservation education.
The project commenced with the stakeholder forum which had in attendance, Traditional Heads, Government Officials, Community Conservation Management Teams, and community members. The forum included the introduction of project purpose and activities, and solicited the participation of all stakeholders in conserving crocodiles. After this forum, nuclear focus group discussions with all parties continued to determine the current impacts of introduced belief systems on crocodile conservation, threats to the species, the effectiveness of traditional conservation policies and activities, and unravel the historic relationship between the indigenes and the species.
The ecological survey was conducted to aid the assessment of the species-habitat association and population. The spotlight count method (Letnic and Connors, 2006) was employed. Line transects along the edge of ponds since the rains had reduced and catchment water receded, exposing enough bear-ground were established. Transects were walked during the hours of 18:00pm to 10:00pm GMT. All individuals seen were counted and their age class determined. Habitat conditions were categorized into intact, moderate and severe condition classes. Anthropogenic activities assessed included farming, fishing, organic and plastic pollution.
We conducted socio-economic surveys aimed at determining community members’ perception of the impacts of introduced belief systems on the conservation of crocodiles. Questionnaires were administered to individuals of all social classes, profession, and religion. The questionnaire administration was done in the local languages. In addition, Traditional and Opinion leaders were interviewed to reveal the traditional systems applied to regulate conservation activities of the crocodiles.
Finally, the project team engaged community members through house-to-house meetings and focus groups discussions. Through this medium, the project team explained the significance of living together harmoniously with nature to community members. Although this was rather a slow process of meeting and interacting with members, it was more effective as participants were able to ask questions and share their unique perspectives on the issues. The adoption of this approach was occasioned due to the COVID-19 restrictions which did not permit mass gathering of people.