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Marauding crocs to keep vigil on mangrove forests

Bhubaneswar, June 19: They are no Steve Irwins. The next time the poachers are out to plunder the mangrove inside Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary, they have to be ultra careful lest they lose a limb or two.

In a unique experiment, the forest department last week set at large 48 crocodiles bred in captivity into the water bodies of Bhitarkanika to ward off human interference into its fast-depleting mangrove forests.

“The fear of marauding crocs who have been seemingly performing the role of “honorary forest guards” in the core area of the wildlife sanctuary, greatly regulates human intrusion. Now the crocs’ habitat is being expanded to areas subjected to wanton tree felling,” forest officials said.

The crocs were released in Kharinasi and Jamboo areas of the sanctuary, said the officials.

These pockets located on the southern-most part of the 672 square-kilometre sanctuary are visibly marked by skeletal forest cover. A number of thickly populated human settlements dot the area within the sanctuary, resulting in rampant felling of mangrove and conversion of green field into paddy and shrimp cultivation.

“We are pressing into service these reptiles for forest conservation. Once the crocs are firmly ensconced in the water inlets, human intrusion would greatly be curtailed. As the people here take the water route to sneak into the forest, we feel the crocs will come in handy to protect the greens,” said Golakh Rout, additional conservator of forest, Rajnagar Mangrove (wildlife) Forest Division.

The mangroves along the Orissa coast are threatened by high density of population and competing demand for land for agriculture and prawn farming. As many as 410 revenue villages comprising two lakh population thrive on the encroached forestland. Most of the settlers are from neighbouring states and Bangladesh.

The mangrove belt in Kendrapada district has been notified as Bhitarkanika sanctuary (672sqkm).

Part of this area (145sqkm) is notified national park.

“In the past, crocs bred in captivity were used to be released in core areas of the sanctuary surrounded by thick mangrove. For a change, we have shifted the release-exercise to areas where mangrove denudation is pronounced due to hectic human interference,” said a forest staff.

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