Man-croc conflict threatening conservation in Bhitarakanika

Man-croc conflict threatening conservation in Bhitarakanika

Bhitarakanika wildlife and marine sanctuary is more famous for Olive Ridley sea turtles. The sanctuary located in Kendrapara district in coastal Odisha also houses the biggest rookery in the world for endangered sea animals.

The popular sanctuary, already decla­red as a national park, seems to have also turned into a safe haven for another salt water endangered species --the Indo-Pacific crocodiles. A large number of these crocodiles have made  wildlife and
marine sanctuary their home, much to the delight of wildlife experts and tourists.

“I had heard that there are crocodile habitats inside the national park. But I had never imagined that I would come across such a big size crocodile. It was
really thrilling,” said B P Bhata, a wildlife enthusiast from Bhubaneswar, who visited Bhitarakanika a few days back.

According to the latest crocodile census conducted by the wildlife division of the state forest department, there are 1,649 Indo-Pacific crocodiles inside the national park.

Of them, 486 are hatchlings and 356 are yearlings. The number of juvenile and sub-adult crocodiles stood at 395 and 128 respectively. The rest 284 belonged to the category of adult and “mature” crocodiles.

The adult crocodiles  measure between eight feet and 18 feet. The matured crocodiles measure over 18 feet in length. In fact, during the census, the enumerators came across seven crocodiles ranging between 18 and 20 feet long. There were four in the above 20 feet category. The longest among them was 21 feet.

According to experts, the crocodiles find the national park a perfect place to live, thrive and grow primarily because of the conducive and friendly atmosphere of the area and availability of plenty of food in the rivers and creeks flowing through the 800-odd sq km wildlife and marine sanctuary. No wonder the national park houses more than one crocodile habitat.

Three rivers, including Baitarani and Bramhani, two major rivers in the state. pass through Bhitarakanika. Besides, there are 18 creeks which flow through the sanctuary.

“One can find crocodile habitats in almost all the creeks,” said the divisional forest officer, Bhitarakanika Wildlife Sanctuary, Manoj Mohapatra.

If the crocodiles of Bhitarakanika have become a major attraction for wildlife lovers and tourists, they have turned into a living nightmare for many people residing in villages around the sanctuary. There are instances of crocodiles from the national park entering nearby villages and attacking both domestic animals as well as human beings. In fact, a man-crocodile conflict is already on in the area.

Boy mauled

A few days back, a teenaged boy from a village had entered  the river near his house for a wash after attending the nature’s call when he was dragged by a huge crocodile into the deep waters. Though some people were standing nearby they could do little to save the boy.

The villagers launched a search with the help of boats and a few hours later the teenager’s mutilated body was found on the river bank, a few km away from the spot of the incident.

Similarly, a crocodile was beaten to death by angry people in a village near the sanctuary some time back. The villag­ers attacked the reptile with sticks and iron rods after they found the crocodile in the middle of the village road. Just a few days back, the carcass of a crocodile was found floating in a river.

Forest and wildlife personnel in the area suspected that the crocodile might have been thrown into the river by the villagers after beating it to death.

Villagers and sanctuary officials blame each other for these crocodile-related
incidents. The villagers are of the view that because of the carelessness of the sanctuary employees the crocodiles often manage to come out of the national park and sneak into human habitats as well as rivers near the villages. Subsequently, they attack the people and domestic animals.

The sanctuary officials, on the other hand, hold the negligence of the villagers responsible for the crocodile attacks. “Most of the crocodile attacks on village­rs are because of human negligence. These attacks can easily be avoided if the villagers are a little alert and careful”, said DFO Mohapatra.

The need of the hour perhaps is a massive campaign by the government agencies as well as NGO groups to educate the villagers how to deal with the problem and handle the situation. Similarly, the sanctuary officials are also needed to be a little more careful. Everybody should realise that crocodiles of
endangered species category are national treasures and they needed to be handled and protected properly.

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