Last year, 1,698 individuals had been spotted
The population of the saltwater or estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) has increased in the water bodies of Odisha’s Bhitarkanika National Park and its nearby areas in Kendrapara district, with forest officials counting 1,742 individuals in this year’s annual reptile census.
Last year, they had sighted 1,698 crocodiles. Forest officials also sighted 12 albino crocodiles during the reptile census.
“During the two day-long crocodile census on Saturday and Sunday, we sighted 619 hatchlings, 347 yearlings, 273 juveniles, 178 sub-adults (six-eight feet long) and 325 adults (more than 8 feet long). Last year, we had sighted 610 hatchlings, 338 yearlings, 267 juveniles, 172 sub-adults and 311 adults,” said Bimal Prasan Acharya, the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of the Bhitarkanika National Park.
“Gori, the 44-year-old albino crocodile of Bhitarkanika, resides in a pen in the park. But we have also sighted around 12 albino crocodiles and four giant crocodiles more than 20 feet in the water bodies of Bhitarkanika during the reptile census,” said Sudhakar Kar, a noted herpetologist and former crocodile research officer of the state forest and wildlife department, who led the 20 team members in the reptile census work.
“We engaged forest guards, locals, environmentalists and others during the crocodile census in the water-bodies of the park and its nearby areas. Last week, we provided training to around 80 persons at Dangamala within the park about the method to count crocodiles. The enumerators used GPS to map the exact location of the reptiles during the census. We also used photographic interpretation during the crocodile census through digital cameras, with the exact date and time of the locations of the reptiles. The researchers then used the pictures to measure the length and age of the crocodiles,” added Kar.
Kar noted the gradual increase of the reptiles between 2000 and 2019. “A total of 1,192 estuarine crocodiles were counted during the reptile census of 2000, whereas in the 2001 census, the number of crocodiles reached 1,330. But 1,308 crocodiles were counted in 2002. In 2003, 1,342 and in 2004, 1,355 crocodiles were found. In 2005, the census figure was 1,449. In 2006, 1,454 crocodiles and in 2007, 1,482 crocodiles were found in Bhitarkanika. In 2008, 1,482 crocodiles were sighted. In 2009, 1,572 crocodiles and in 1,610 crocodiles were found in 2010. In 2011, the forest officials counted 1,654 but in 2012, the population of crocodiles decreased marginally as 1,646 reptiles were sighted. In 2013, 1,649 crocodiles were counted. In 2014, we counted 1,644 crocodiles and in 2015, we counted 1,665 crocodiles. In 2016, we found 1,671 and in 2017, the numbers of the reptile reached 1,682 ,” he said.
Kar said the increase in population was primarily due to the far-sighted measures of the government. “In 1975, the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme, had started a crocodile breeding and rearing project in Dangamala within the Bhitarkanika Park. Thanks to the success of the project, the crocodile population started increasing in the creeks, river and other water bodies of the park and its nearby areas. Nine years back, the Guinness Book of World Records recorded a 23-foot-long saltwater crocodile in Bhitarkanika as the largest crocodile in the world.”
The three species of crocodilians—saltwater, Mugger and Gharial— breeding programmes had been started in 1975 in 34 places in West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other states in India and Nepal. But the saltwater crocodile conservation programme in Bhitarkanika is the most successful one, as in 1975, Bhitarkanika was the home of only 96 crocodiles, Kar said.
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