Wildlife & Biodiversity

Officials count 122 saltwater crocodile nests in Bhitarkanika

The numbers are much more than previous years, implying that the adult breeding population is increasing

 
By Ashis Senapati
Published: Tuesday 19 July 2022
An estuarine crocodile in Bhitarkanika National Park. Photo: Ashis Senapati
An estuarine crocodile in Bhitarkanika National Park. Photo: Ashis Senapati An estuarine crocodile in Bhitarkanika National Park. Photo: Ashis Senapati

A record number of saltwater crocodiles laid eggs during the nesting season this year in Bhitarkanika National Park situated in Odisha’s Kendrapara district, with forest officials counting 122 nests from May 1-June 24, 2022.

“Last year, we counted only 84 nests in Bhitarkanika due to inundation and tidal waves associated with Cyclone Yaas in May 2021,” JD Pati, the divisional forest officer of the park, told this reporter.

“In 2020 and 2019, we had counted 103 nests. In 2018, we sighted 101 nests. The increased numbers of nests this year indicate that the adult population of the crocodiles is rising,” Pati added.

The forest officials had counted 1,784 crocodiles, including 346 adult crocodiles more than eight feet long, during the annual reptile census in January 2022. Forest officials had sighted 1,768 reptiles in 2021, Pati said.

“The number of crocodile nests has increased this year due to good weather. The nests are usually prepared with mangrove twigs, leaves, mud, etc,” Sudhakar Kar, a noted crocodile researcher and a former forest official, said.  

The nests are usually made on high ground to protect them from inundation during high tide in the rainy season. The high ground also enables the nests to get direct sunlight, Kar added.  

A female crocodile lays 50-60 eggs in a nest. One out of 500 crocodile hatchlings in the wild turns adult. The female guards the eggs from predators like jackals, wild dogs, fishing cats, vultures, water monitors, wild boars and other animals.

“The crocodiles also cover the eggs with leaves to prevent their exposure to rainwater during the rainy season,” Kar said.

The Odisha forest department bans the entry of people into the park from May 1-July 31 every year, during the mating and breeding of crocodiles. 

The then ministry of forest and environment had, in 1975, started a crocodile breeding and rearing project in Dangamala within Bhitarkanika, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme.

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. 

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