Population surveys of Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) in the Murchison Falls National Park, Victoria Nile, Uganda

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Abstract

1. A 12-month-long survey (April 2013 to March 2014) for Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) was conducted along a section of the Victoria Nile/Ramsar site of Murchison Falls National Park, in order to update the historic information on crocodile populations in the area, locating nesting areas, determining seasonality patterns and habitat use, and assess the current abundance and the population size trends since the 1960s. The methods employed included visual encounter surveys, transect counts and opportunistic methods, by using boats. 2. In general, there were diurnal and seasonal fluctuations in the number of crocodile sightings. The crocodile sightings peaked between the months of June and August, with the highest mean number of sightings encountered on any single day being 67 (in July 2013), and the second peak was between January and March with the highest mean of 118 recorded in January 2014. The second peak also coincided with the crocodile breeding season. This clearly shows that the distribution of the sub-population sampled followed a climatic regime. 3. Crocodiles were observed most frequently in water (37%). Grassy banks, islands, river mouths and sandy banks constituted about 47% of the habitats utilised by the crocodile population. Although basking was the most frequent type of activity performed by crocodiles (50%) over the entire survey period, their key activities varied significantly from month to month. Nesting was very visible during the last quarter of the year and the first quarter of the New Year. 4. There was a clear decline of the abundance of crocodiles in this population between 1960s and nowadays. This declining trend was obvious also taking into account the various survey methodologies employed over the decades.

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