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Croc incursions worry wildlife officials

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Reported by Vishwanath Kumar
Kendrapara/ Rajnagar, Apr 21:

Worried over recurring incidents of ferocious estuarine or ‘baula’ crocodile straying into human habitation, the Forest department officials have worked out a set of measures to ensure the safety of residents in the villages along the croc-infested rivers in Odisha’s Kendrapara district.

The breeding season of salt water crocodiles has begun and explains why the reptiles have become aggressive and in their urge to protect their offsprings react violently against any human interference in the water-bodies, said Forest officials.

A juvenile croc that strayed into Orata village in Mahakalpada on Apr 20, 2014 (EMS pic)
A juvenile croc that strayed into Orata village in Mahakalpada on Apr 20, 2014 (EMS pic)

“We have cautioned the people in the riverside villages not to venture into water. Alert has been sounded in a number of villages in and around the Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary,” said Rajnagar mangrove & wildlife Divisional Forest Officer, Kedar Kumar Swain.

Apart from croc conservation programme, the safety of human lives and livestock remains on the top of forest department’s agenda, the official said.

Besides engaging the services of a group of skilled fishermen, the department would press into service three country boats in croc-infested river to keep the predatory reptiles at bay.

To drive away the hot-headed crocodiles from the village-side water bodies, experienced local fishermen have been recruited on a contractual basis. Their job is to chase the straying crocs back to their original habitat in Bhitarkanika river system. They are adept at chasing away crocs by using certain traditional tricks and have done this successfully over the years, forest officials said.

These specialist fishermen would be divided into four groups with each group provided with a country-made boat and nets to help them in their operation.

First of all, they would locate the itinerant crocs and then chase them on boats with nets and bamboo sticks. If, however, the croc refuses to turn away the next option before them would be to cage the crocs by the use of nets. The caged animal will then be dragged along the river and released inside their Bhitarkanika’s habitat, the officials said.

The crocs mostly stray into villages mostly during the rainy season or floods. Besides high tides during low-pressure formation prompt the crocs to stray, they said.

The census figure of crocs has been constantly on the upward swing. As the habitation corridor of estuarine crocs is getting squeezed over the years, the animals often stray into water bodies and rivers connected to the water channels of Bhitarkanika.

The latest official census put the number of saltwater crocs inhabiting along the innumerable nullahs and water-inlets within the sanctuary limits at 1644. The census figure is believed to be on the lower side. On the other hand, it is being widely believed that over 2,000 crocs  populate the Bhitarkanika water bodies.

Habitation corridor of crocs is getting shrunk following a boom in their own population. As a result, the reptiles encounter shortage of food. Unlawful fishing in prohibited sanctuary areas also greatly responsible for depletion of the  the crocs’ food reserve.

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