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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
'Cave-dwelling' crocodile found
Tara was delighted to find the crocodiles
Tara was delighted to find the crocodiles
A new population of cave-dwelling crocodiles, never before seen outside their Saharan habitat, has been discovered, according to a Northern Ireland researcher.

University of Ulster PhD student Tara Shine, 29, came across the crocodiles in the remote African country of Mauritania, during a two and a half year volunteer project.

Previously unknown except by local tribespeople, the crocodiles live in burrows and caves throughout the dry season and periods of drought.

It is a phenomenon never before recorded among Nile crocodiles, according to Tara.

Other types of crocodiles are much larger

It is believed the reptiles have adapted their behaviour and genetic make-up to suit the unpredictable and arid conditions which developed in the region over the last 5,000 - 8,000 years.

Tara, who is from Kilkenny but now lives in Portstewart, County Londonderry said: "When I first went to Mauritania, the local people told me about the crocodiles that lived in the small rock pools and caves.

"Initially I didn't believe them, as it seemed impossible - and there had never been any record of crocodiles in this part of the country.

"But when I went in search for the animals myself, I realized that what they were saying was true."

The crocodiles are much smaller than any other known species.

They measure up to seven feet in length, and lack the aggressive behaviour of their river dwelling cousins.

I was delighted to discover the crocodiles after days of searching for them under rocks

Tara Shine

According to Tara, they also migrate in search of water, a behaviour never reported in any other crocodile.

Tribespeople have been protecting the crocodiles for centuries as superstition says that their extinction would lead to scarce water supplies drying up.

However, University of Ulster researchers fear that the isolation and small size of the crocodile population could pose a threat to their long-term survival.

Tara added: "I was delighted to discover the crocodiles after days of searching for them under rocks.

"I didn't realise exactly how important my find was until a team of top reptile specialists from the Koeing museum in Bonn came out to look at the crocodiles."

DNA tests are currently under way to determine the precise genetic make-up of the crocodiles.

See also:

14 Aug 01 | Americas
Battle to save starving crocodiles
07 Feb 01 | Africa
Malawi curbs crocodile menace
19 Dec 00 | Africa
Gambia's sacred crocodile pool
05 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Vietnam flood victims face crocs threat
25 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Snap! It's the conjoined crocodiles
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