Wildlife & Biodiversity

Could illegal fishing have caused death of 5-foot-long saltie in Bhitarkanika

The reptile’s carcass was found floating in a river inside the park June 3

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Thursday 03 June 2021

The carcass of a five-feet-long saltwater crocodile was found floating June 3, 2021 in the Patasala river near Silapokhari village within the Bhitarkanika National Park (BNP) in Odisha’s Kendrapara district.

This is the seventh incident of an unnatural reptilian death within 16 months and the 30th death of a crocodile in the park within nine years. It has baffled forest officials and environmentalists.

Bikash Ranjan Dash, the divisional forest officer of BNP, said:

Forest officials retrieved the carcass from the water. We suspect the reptile choked and drowned by being caught inside a fishing net or died due to infighting. We have sent the carcass to the veterinary hospital at Rajnagar for autopsy. We will know the exact reason behind the death only after getting the autopsy report. 

Saltwater crocodiles were included in Schedule I of India’s Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, Dash added.

The saltie’s death has exposed lacunae in the crocodile conservation work done in the park, Hemant Rout, an environmentalist and the secretary of Gahirmatha Marine Turtles and Mangrove Conservation Society, Kendrapada, told this reporter.

The rivers, creeks and other water bodies within BNP are the home of around 1,800 saltwater crocodiles.

Rout added:

Fishing is banned in the water bodies of Bhitarkanika. But some locals illegally fish in the river, which is taking a toll on estuarine crocodiles. As illegal fishing continues unabated and offenders go scot-free, more crocodile carcasses wash ashore, entangled in fishing nets.

 In 1975, the then-Union Ministry of Forest and Environment, in a collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme had started a crocodile breeding and rearing project in Dangamala within BNP.

Relentless efforts by the authorities have increased the number of crocodiles in Bhitarkanika to 1,768 in January 2021, from just 96 in 1974.

The forest department had stopped the crocodile breeding and rearing programme in 2012 in the park as the crocodile population had reached a saturation point, Sudhakar Kar, a noted herpetologist and the former wildlife researcher of the forest department, said.

“Only one of 500 baby crocodiles will reach adulthood in the wild. That is why we are worried about the unnatural death of 30 adult crocodiles within nine years,” Kar added.

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