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Crocodiles on flight to Dhaka

Chennai, June 24: Their mouths tied with tape, 40 passengers were today herded into the Alitalia flight to Dhaka, where ministers lined up to welcome them.

For once, India and Bangladesh are seeing eye-to-eye on a group of migrants.

In a cross-border conservation programme, New Delhi is helping its neighbour rebreed the tropical marsh crocodile by sending over eight males and 32 females.

The scaly, cold-blooded animals were placed in well-ventilated wooden boxes that were loaded on to the aircraft’s hold at Chennai airport this evening. The species has virtually become extinct in Bangladesh, said Harry V. Andrews, director of the 30-year-old Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, which is conducting the “goodwill mission”.

“Crocodiles can be more easily transported than, say, lions and tigers which need regular feeding and water. Crocodiles can stay without food for days together,” Andrews said, adding the reptiles were last fed at the trust’s farm on Wednesday.

“They only need to be kept at the right temperature, which will be taken care of by the air-conditioning in the aircraft.”

The Bangladesh environment ministry had made a request for the crocodiles a few months ago, Andrews said. “We had to get clearance from the Zoo Authority of India and our environment ministry.

“The Bangladesh government is paying for the journey. The crocodiles will get a grand reception at Dhaka airport from the ministers there,” Andrew added with a chuckle.

The 40 adult crocodiles were selected from a bank of 2,400 at the trust’s farm, located off the highway from Chennai to Mamallapuram. The males are aged between 25 and 30 years, each a little over 3 metres in length. The females are all 18 years old and measure 2.50-2.75 metres.

Eight females and two males will go straight to the Dhaka zoo while the rest will be divided among three captive breeding centres elsewhere in the country.

Andrews said he would travel with his team to Bangladesh some time later to help the neighbours breed the crocodiles.

India’s successful Crocodile Project has drawn many of its neighbours’ attention. “Nepal has also requested our trust to send marsh crocodiles but this has had to be put on hold because of the political problems there,” he said. Some time ago, there had been an enquiry from Pakistan, too.

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