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Sanctuary’s honour guards: crocodiles

Bhubaneswar, June 19: Poachers should develop Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin’s skills or stay off the mangrove inside Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary. Else, they could find themselves minus a limb or two.

The forest department last week released 48 crocodiles bred in captivity into the Orissa sanctuary’s swamps to act as its “honour guards”.

“Earlier, we used to release crocodiles in the sanctuary’s core areas that are surrounded by thick mangroves,” a forest official said.

Now, they have been set at large in the Kharinasi and Jamboo areas, in the southernmost part of the 672-sqkm sanctuary, where the forest cover has thinned because of wanton felling.

These areas are dotted with thickly populated human settlements, whose residents have been cutting down the mangroves, cultivating shrimps in the swamps and turning the forestland into paddy fields.

Of all the predators that attack humans for food, crocodiles are perhaps the most aggressive — undeterred even when faced by large numbers of people.

Saltwater crocodiles in Myanmar are believed to have killed and eaten several hundred Japanese soldiers as they tried to cross a 16-km stretch of mangrove swamps during the Battle of Ramree Island on February 19, 1945, towards the end of World War II.

“As the people here take the water route to sneak into the forest, we believe the reptiles will play a crucial role in protecting the greens,” said Golakh Rout, additional conservator of forests.

The mangroves along the Orissa coast are threatened by the high density of population and the huge demand for land for agriculture and prawn-farming. As many as 410 revenue villages with a combined population of two lakh plunder the forests, officials say.

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