Shedding crocodile tears, literally

Reptiles suffer due to lack of water, feed at breeding centre

Shedding crocodile tears, literally

No effort has been made to repair the tank and help crocodiles to beat the heat. It is said that the mighty crocodile is powerless outside water and would rush back to regain its posture. But there is no water to rush back at the Manjeera Crocodile Breeding Centre near Sangareddy, the Medak district headquarters on the banks of the Manjeera River, 40 km from Hyderabad. The breeding centre, which also houses an environmental education centre for enthusiastic children, lacks basic amenities for the visitors and also for the crocodiles.

On any given day, there will be five to six pairs of crocodiles at the breeding centre in the artificial pond on the rear of the centre. The keepers are supposed to keep them cool and feed them beef pieces to ensure crocodiles are in good health  at the  breeding centre. After breeding, the young ones are released into the Manjeera River between the Singur and Manjeera dams.

It was during this summer the water tank dried up exposing the crocodiles to
sweltering heat of almost 46 degrees Celsius. While a few took shelter under the thick bush nearby, others hid under the cracks of the cement saucer built to hold the thick skinned reptiles. “It is really sad to see the plight of these reptiles as there is plenty of water in the river just a few yards from the breeding centre, but no one to repair the tank and fill it up so that the crocodiles can survive the hottest summer,” D Sai Prasad, a local wildlife enthusiast, commented.

“We do not have enough funds to buy beef regularly to feed the muggers. They catch some rodents and live. If  funds are released we will buy beef and feed them,” the keepers said shrugging their shoulders. However, the recent rains have saved the
situation. The tank is brimming with water and the crocodiles have returned.

In 1974, the Indian mugger had reached the threshold of extinction in Andhra Pradesh. In Manje­era, the original habitat for mugger, only four pairs were left due to indiscriminate hunting. “Farmers used to kill them as crocodiles used to bask on Manje­era banks and enter their agricultural lands for breeding. The forest officials then declared a 20-sq km area between the Manjeera and Singur dams as a crocodile sanctuary. Incidentally, Manjeera is also home to a variety of migratory and native birds.

According to Medak DFO Gubbala Ramakrishna Rao, there are around 300 crocodiles in the sanctuary. “It is difficult to give the actual number of crocodiles present in the sanctuary now but a conservative estimate could be of nearly 300 or even more,” he said.

The nine islands in the dam with trees and shrubs are being frequented by muggers. These reptiles usually crawl on to the river bank for basking and also laying eggs between March and April. It lays between 35 and 40 eggs in a hole which it digs in the sand.

The mother remains very attentive as she has to break the egg immediately after hearing the cracking sound. In spite of strict protection, the eggs are eaten away by birds, snakes and other animals. “That is why we have established the breeding centre so that Indian mugger could be saved,” he added.

The Andhra Pradesh Forest Department hired four trackers to caution the villagers living on the banks of Manjeera about the movement of pregnant crocodiles. The department still considers the number as low and wants to expand its programme.

Citing the success story of Ranganathittu Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka, which is spread over only 67 hectares and generated much of interest among tourists, the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department hopes that the Manjeera Crocodile Sanctuary, which has more number of crocodiles and birds, could be developed on similar lines.
The forest department was really keen on saving the crocodiles and their youngones.

The mother-to-be crocodiles were, therefore, watched constantly by four trackers hired by the department. Their job is also to warn the villagers and farmers to stay off the limits. This simple move made a huge impact in the population of the species.
According to Hitesh Malhotra, Chief Wildlife Warden, the department is planning to open the Manjeera Crocodile Sanctuary for visitors, in addition to the breeding centre which is already open for visitors. Though a preliminary survey of enume­rating reptiles in the Manjeera dam in a random fashion has been carried out by the DFO, many more details have to be worked out while launching the eco-tourism project.

Spanning over an area of around 3,568 sq km, the Manjeera Wildlife Sanctuary is a broader place consisting of bird and crocodile sanctuaries. The sanctuary is the home for fish like catla, murrel, rahu, karugu, mollusks, prawns and zoo planktons, reptilian varieties like the fresh water turtles, monitor lizards, and cobra, birds like painted storks, chidwa, teals, herons, cormorants, coots, spoon bills, black and white ibises, storks etc. The bird sanctuary spreads over an area of around 20 sq km and is also home to some of the best varieties. The sanctuary has a dense growth of babul trees and the place also has water plants like vallisneria, pistia, hydrilla and eichornia.

There is an interesting Environmental Education Centre which also has a museum, an auditorium and a library. This museum mainly aims at educating visitors about the place and introducing the concept of conservation of nature and maintenance of
ecological balance here.

Visitors normally take a boat to reach the sanctuary and bird watching enthusiasts love to come here and enjoy the pleasures of the best sights of the birds here. Armed with binoculars and books, these bird lovers also like to enjoy the film shown on birds on a 16-mm projector.

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