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Human-reared crocodiles prey on humans

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  • Published 25.08.09

Cuttack, Aug. 24: An unintended horror has visited villages around the Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary as a conservation programme that “rears and releases” crocodiles threatens to go wrong.

Endangered saltwater crocodiles are gliding out of the sanctuary’s rivers and creeks at will to hunt for humans in the neighbourhood, with wildlife experts blaming a fault in the conservation project. They stressed that conservation itself is a laudable objective but the possible loophole should be plugged.

All reptiles tend to return to their birthplace, an expert said, and at Bhitarkanika, the crocodiles are being released too far away from where they are being hatched, causing them to stray as they try to return.

Lying in wait near the banks of rivers they are entering, the reptiles have killed and eaten three villagers in the past 20 days, terrorising a population of 30,000 living downstream of the river Brahmani. The crocodiles have been hunting on ground too, even dragging people off their crop fields.

The forest department hired squads of skilled fishermen a month ago to beat back straying crocodiles. But the killings have continued in Rajnagar and Rajkanika, some 80km from here in coastal Kendrapara, with villagers alleging the government “cares more for crocodiles than human beings”.

Saltwater or estuarine crocodiles are one of the world’s largest and fiercest predators, can grow up to 20 feet and 1.5 tonnes, and are capable of explosive charges from water or over land.

Sanjukta Behera, 30, became the latest victim on Saturday, pulled into the river which flows near the backyard of her home in Mahuri village.

“Sanjukta and I had walked to the river to wash utensils. The crocodile was hiding in the undergrowth,” said Rebati Behera, 32. “Sanjukta did not notice the animal till it pounced on her.”

The villagers protested against the crocodile conservation programme in front of the local block office later in the day. “The government has been lukewarm to our protests. It seems to care more for crocodiles than human beings,” said Niranjan Behera.

Biswajit Mohanty, secretary, Wildlife Society of Orissa, explained the government’s mistake.

“The hatching is being done at one place (Dangmahal) and the release at another (Bausagada, 12km to 19km away). The crocodiles are returning to their original place of hatching, resulting in overcrowding. The hatching should have been distributed over the area where they plan to release the reptiles,” he said.

Mohanty added that the depletion of food for the crocodiles because of unchecked illegal fishing was also driving them out of their habitat into the Brahmani, and onwards into the Kharashrota, Hansua and Gobari rivers that flow near villages.

Officials of the Rajnagar forest division admit that complaints are pouring in about crocodile attacks.

Anadi Barik, 60, was killed while taking an early-morning bath in the river at Ranipokhari on August 10. Chanchala Digal, 50, was killed at Trilochanpur on August 4. Earlier, Bidyadhar Rout, 25, of Barajapur and Debendra Kumar Das, 24, of Vekta had been dragged from their fields.

“We have hired four groups of four fishermen each on yearly contracts. Their job is to find the straying reptiles and chase them back into the Bhitarkanika river system,” said Manas Ranjan Parida, a forest range officer in Kendrapada.

The latest census had counted 1,572 estuarine crocodiles in Bhitarkanika, one of them the planet’s largest crocodile at 7.1 metres or 23 feet.