Increased number of croc hatchlings in Bhitarkanika

Over 3,000 estuarine crocodile hatchlings have emerged out of eggshells to make their way to water-bodies in and around Bhitarkanika National Park in Odisha's Kendrapara district, marking the culmination of annual breeding and nesting season of these reptiles.

PTI| Last Updated: Aug 26, 2014, 16:57 PM IST

Kendrapara (Odisha): Over 3,000 estuarine crocodile hatchlings have emerged out of eggshells to make their way to water-bodies in and around Bhitarkanika National Park in Odisha's Kendrapara district, marking the culmination of annual breeding and nesting season of these reptiles.

The sight of baby crocs breaking out of eggshells and their act of loitering aimlessly before hopping into the water-bodies and creeks was a visual treat to watch.

Ground-level staff engaged in maintaining watch and vigil of the nests were witness to the rare natural phenomenon.

The fledgling crocs emerged from the shells sans mothers.

However, the forest personnel maintained safe distance from the nests as human interference turns the reptiles violent and aggressive.

As many as 68 croc nests were sighted in the wild by the enumerators this year while 56 nests had been spotted last year and rise in number shows better conservation measures by forest department, Divisional Forest Officer, Rajnagar Mangrove (wildlife) Division, Kedar Kumar Swain said.

Female crocodiles lay 50 to 60 eggs and the hatchlings usually emerge from the nests after 70 to 80 days of incubation period, he said adding hardly one out of every hundred baby crocs grows to become adults as their mortality rate is high. In the wild, babies are devoured by predating aquatic animals, observed reptile researcher, Sudhakar Kar.

The release of these hatched reptiles has been going on since 1975, funded by the United National Development Programme and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The conservation project undertaken in Bhitarkanika tasted success while a similar UNDP-funded 'gharial croc' conservation project launched simultaneously in Angul district's Tikarpada Sanctuary was a failure.

Adequate conservation measures by the state forest department have led to a systematic rise in the number of these reptiles over the years, claimed officials.

The number of salt water crocodiles, which are not found in any other river system in Odisha, as per the latest census, in Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary stood at 1644.

The wildlife sanctuary had been kept out of bounds for tourists and visitors to ensure disturbance-free annual nesting of crocs. The animals turn violent and restive over human interference in their habitat. The enforced restriction on entry to sanctuary was clamped on May 31 and it was lifted on July 31, said officials.

The internationally acclaimed Bhitarkanika Ramsar wetland site continues to be a congenial habitat of salt-water crocodiles with swampy mangrove-infested region housing the largest number of these reptiles. The region is crisscrossed by innumerable water inlets, creeks and nullahs all forming part of Bhitarkanika river system.