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Giant crocodile sighted in state

- Marginal increase in estuarine reptile’s population in Bhitarkanika

Bhubaneswar/Kendrapara, Jan. 11: The population of salt water crocodiles in the Bhitarkanika National Park has registered a marginal increase, but the better piece of news is the sighting of some giant-sized reptiles, including the one which figures in the Guinness World Records.

The 21-foot scaly reptile, considered among the world’s largest estuarine crocodile by the Guinness World Records, was found nestling in the Mahisnsadiha inlet of the Bhitarkanika river system during the latest census whose results were announced today.

Officials said while around 300 big size crocodiles were spotted in the course of the annual exercise in the 672 sq km sanctuatry in Kendrapara district at least four of these were more than 20 feet long. Incidentally, all the giant crocs sighted in the area are males.

The counting of the biggies during the operation has more than compensated for the disappointment at the rather insignificant increase in the overall population of Bhitarkanika crocodiles, which has gone up from 1,646 last year to 1,649 now. Asserting that crocodile population in the sanctuary area had stabilised, wildlife officials said that counting of babies might have been hampered by fog.

“The sighting of baby and young crocs was affected due to fog. That might have led to the marginal increase in the census figure. But it can be safely assumed that the population of estuarine crocodiles has stabilised in Bhitarkanika,” said Manoj Kumar Mahapatra, divisional forest officer, Rajnagar Mangrove (Wildlife) Forest Division.

During the course of enumeration, officials also sighted about a dozen albino crocodiles locally known as Shankhua because their alabaster skin. Most of these were sub-adults measuring above six feet. Apart from the albinos in the wild, the Dangmal Crocodile Research Centre at Dangmal on the edge of the sanctuary boasts of a 36-year-old female crocodile lovingly named Gori for the colour of her skin. A treasured possession of the park, Gori, who has been notorious for refusing and wounding mates, was the mascot for the 15th national youth festival in 2010.

The rise in Bhitarkanika’s crocodile population is a fascinating tale of human endeavour. In 1975, the number of these reptiles in the area had dropped to single-digit setting alarm bells ringing in the state’s wildlife establishment. The state government launched a conservation project the same year with the assistance of Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nation’s Development Programme (UNDP).

Mooted by H.R. Bustard, the then programme consultant, it aimed to rear crocodiles at the Dangmal centre and then releasing them into the creeks and rivers of the sanctuary. The programme, which triggered a croc boom in Bhitarkanika, was perhaps the first wildlife success story of the state.

The census team also covered the water bodies in and around the Mahanadi deltaic region where 107 crocodiles were sighted. The enumerators extensively covered vulnerable riverside villages where cases of man-crocodile conflict have been reported in the past. The census findings have established that estuarine crocodiles are wanderers who stray into adjoining water bodies depending upon its saline content. After a temporary sojourn, they tend to return to their permanent habitation corridors within the Bhitarkanika river system.

Wildlife researchers have also found that the prime habitat of the species is getting squeezed to an area of about 26sqkm within the national park. This could be because of the drop in the salinity level of some of the water bodies within the sanctuary area.