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Odisha forest welcomes baby crocs

Paradip, Aug. 23: Over 3,000 estuarine crocodile hatchlings have emerged from their eggshells to make their way to water bodies in and around the Bhitarkanika National Park, marking the culmination of annual breeding and nesting season of the endangered 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. A group of ground-level employees engaged in maintaining watch and vigil of the nests were privileged to watch the phenomenon. However, the personnel maintained safe distance from the nests as human interference renders the reptiles violent and aggressive.

Enumerators spotted as many as 68 croc nests in the wild this year as compared to 56 nests last year. The increase in the number of nests brings home the point of better conservation measures by the state forest department, said officer of the Rajnagar mangrove (wildlife) division Kedar Kumar Swain.

Female crocodiles lay 50 to 60 eggs and the hatchlings usually emerge from the nests after 70 to 80 days of incubation period.

The annual captive breeding of the crocodiles’ eggs, as part of “rear and release” programme of these endangered species, has been suspended. The eggs collected from the wild are hatched artificially in an enclosure, said an official.

The rear and release of these hatched reptiles has been going on since 1975, funded by the United National Development Programme and Food and Agriculture Organisation. The conservation project undertaken in the Bhitarkanika tasted success, while a similar UNDP-funded gharial croc conservation project launched 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, said an official. The number of salt-water crocodiles, which are not found in any other river system of the state, according to the latest census, in Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary, stood at 1,644.