Wildlife & Biodiversity

‘Water trains’ hold key to survival of 350 mugger crocodiles in Rajasthan’s Pali

Water levels in the Jawai dam are down to three feet in which the animals will not be able to survive

By Anil Ashwani Sharma
Published: Monday 18 April 2022
A mugger crocodile in the nearly-dry Jawai reservoir. Photo: Rudrapratap
A mugger crocodile in the nearly-dry Jawai reservoir. Photo: Rudrapratap A mugger crocodile in the nearly-dry Jawai reservoir. Photo: Rudrapratap

The Indian Railways has been delivering water to Pali district in western Rajasthan for a few days now as the region’s water bodies have dried up due to a hot March. These trains now hold the key to survival not just of Pali’s human residents but also reptilian ones.

Extreme and early heat in March forced authorities in Pali to release water from the Jawai dam built on the Jawai river, a tributary of the Luni which flows through Pali.

The district had not received good rains last year. High demand led to water from the reservoir’s dead zone being supplied to Pali in the last 15 days. And now, the dam is empty much before it should have been.

The district administration requested the Indian Railways to help with the water crisis. Two trains from Jodhpur now supply water daily to the district. This number could increase to four if the crisis worsens.

But while the human residents are satiated of their thirst for the time being, the over 350 mugger crocodiles for whom the Jawai dam is home, are struggling to survive.

“Some water from these trains must be allocated for wildlife,” Pushpendra Singh Rajpurohit, a local wildlife conservationist told Down To Earth. “If there are no timely rains, then water will have to be released from the trains into the reservoir. Only then will the crocodiles survive,” he added.

The water in the reservoir is down to three feet. Crocodiles need at least 10 feet of water to survive, Rajpurohit said.

He also noted that in lean times such as these, crocodiles seek shelter in dens dug on land near the water body they reside in. They stop all activity in the cool of these dens to conserve their energy and wait for the rains. They can survive for four-six months in this manner.

The crocodiles found in Jawai are muggers or marsh crocodiles (Crocodylus palustris) which are freshwater specialists. They found all over south Asia — India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh — as well as south-eastern Iran.

Muggers measure six to 13 feet on average and live for 70-80 years. The species has been extirpated in many areas of its former range and now survives largely in protected areas, mainly in India and Sri Lanka.

The mugger is found in 15 Indian states, with the largest populations in the middle Ganges (Bihar-Jharkhand) and Chambal (Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan) basins.

The main threats to mugger crocodiles are habitat loss due to expansion of agriculture and industry, getting trapped in fishing nets, poaching of their eggs and illegal trade in their skin and meat.

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