Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
sdzglibrarybanner San Diego Zoo Global Library

Nile Crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus & C. suchus) Fact Sheet: Distribution & Habitat


Historic distribution

  • Formerly across Africa (from Pooley & Gans 1976; Trutnau & Sommerlad 2006)
    • Extending to Israel and  along the southern Mediterranean coast as far west and north as Tunisia and Syriain, recent historical times
    • Fossil and modern distribution records suggests some lineages dispersed across marine barriers (from Brochu 2001; Dessauer et al 2002)
      • Distribution of the genus Crocodylus world-wide can't be explained by continental drift, land bridges, sea levels, or any other geological phenomena
      • Several physiological mechanisms of crocodiles probably helped them to colonize new lands via marine waters
  • Recent regional extinctions
    • 1810-1820, extirpated from Comoros Island, off Africa's East Coast
    • Eliminated from Israel in the early 1900s
    • Re-established population in Egypt following theAswan dam project in the 1970s

Modern distribution

  • Widespread throughout Africa (from Hekkala et al 2009)
    • South of the Sahara desert
    • In eastern Africa, up to Lake Nassar in Egypt
    • Absent from the southern tip of Africa
  • Western Madagascar (Hekkala et al 2009)
  • Present in numerous countries
    • Occupies parts of 47 African countries (Hekkala et al 2009)
    • Can be locally rare, with populations fragmented due to human land use and a drying climate (Ross 1998)

Geographical subregions

  • 7 distinctive populations (from Hekkala et al 2009)
    • 4 major drainages of Eastern Africa
      • Kenya's Lake Turkana
      • Ruaha River in Tanzania
      • Zambezi River in Zimbabwe
      • Limpopo River in South Africa
    • Sahara/West Africa population
    • 2 groups in Madagascar
      • Populations probably founded by individuals who crossed 250 miles of marine waters from Africa (Brochu 2001; Dessauer et al 2002; Grenard 1991)


Freshwater inhabitant

  • Lakes, rivers, and streams
    • Also found in brackish coastal swamps
      • More salt-tolerant than previously believed (Brochu 2001)
    • Burrows during the hot and dry seasons in Somalia and Tanzania (Trutnau & Sommerlad 2006)
      • Juveniles known to occupy burrows for protection from adults
  • Inhabits caves, western Madagascar

Distribution Map

map of Nile Crocodile

Nile Crocodile distribution.

Adapted from according to IUCN fact sheet. Click here for detailed distribution information (IUCN).

Page Citations

Brochu (2001)
Dessauer et al (2002)
Grenard (1991)
Hekkala et al (2009)
Pooley & Gans (1976)
Ross (1998)
Trutnau & Sommerlad (2006)

SDZG Library Links