In a recent incident in Odisha’s Kendrapada district, a salt- water crocodile, (the largest living crocodile species) was found dead by forest officials near a water body in Kochila village of Barakanda Gram Panchayat. The injuries clearly show, the animal died due to wounds inflicted on it by locals.

The huge 8-foot long reptile is believed to have been killed by villagers in the Mahakalpada Forest Range after it was spotted in human settlements. Villagers claim the animal tried to attack their cattle and therefore hacked it to death. The body of the crocodile bore many injury marks indicating that its death was not natural.

The estuarine crocodile, being a protected species under wild life protection act, a case was registered under the wildlife protection act.

“As estuarine crocodile spotted dead comes under scheduled and protected animal, a case under Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 has been registered. The reptile’s body has been sent for post-mortem,” said an officer of Mahakalpada forest range.

It is most likely that the crocodile strayed away from its protected habitat of Bhitarkanika and strayed into waters near human settlements where fishing is prohibited.

The Bhitarkanika National Park is one of the few places where the salt-water crocodile survives. After their numbers fell to a critically low level, the sanctuary was set up in 1975 to protect, rear and rehabilitate them. The mangrove swamps of the Brahmani – Baitarani Delta of North – Eastern portion of the State has the ideal conditions to be a home to these crocodiles. Efforts by conservationists have helped in steadily increasing their numbers from 1308 in 2002-03 to 1610 in 2009-10.

But such incidences clearly dampen the spirit of conservationists.

The forest department officials believe that after getting trapped in fishing nets of men fishing in prohibited waters, the salt-water crocodile was beaten to death. The injury marks on the dead crocodile point in that direction.

Threats to Life

There have been quite a few incidents of these crocodiles straying into areas near human settlements and causing panic. In the last one year, nine adult and sub-adult crocodiles have been killed after trespassing into human settlements.

Because salt water crocodiles have a notorious reputation of being man-eaters, even one stray crocodile creates fear and the need to kill it among locals. On the other hand, increased human intrusion into their territory is increasing conflicts too. Also, because these crocodiles keep wandering in the waters, all the time, they tend to swim away to nearby water-bodies whose salinity has increased in recent years and have become more suited to their habitat needs. But as per forest officials, the roaming crocodiles, never stay in these locations and come back to their home areas in the park.

There is an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 crocodiles around the globe. However, salt-water crocodiles face a threat to their existence due to the following:

  1. Use of Crocodile hides for making bags and purses.
  2. Hunting of crocodiles when they stray into prohibited waters
  3. Constant human-animal conflict deprives it of its natural habitat.
  4. Crocodiles being feared as ferocious carnivores and man-eaters do not evoke any sympathy and are killed on encroaching human territory.

Our view

With rising human population giving rise to problems of living space, food needs etc., increasingly the battle between humans and animals is resulting in the same tragic end of many species from tigers to leopards and snakes to crocodiles.

Increased awareness is a necessity but so is the need for forest officials to be agile and be technically sound to handle animal rescue operations when such incidents occur. Having a 24 hours helpline can make people aware that if at all an animal is spotted near human settlements there is a way to not maul it to death but returned to the wild by trained officers. Illegal fishing, poaching, illegal encroachments of protected areas needs to be scrutinised too. For humans and animals around us to co-exist, solutions have to be found within the community.

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Image via cc/Flickr by Teddy Fotiou

About Ramya Naresh

Ramya is a homemaker who likes to live in harmony with Nature, believing that each form of life is a wonder in itself. She values living in the present and looks forward to each day in all its freshness. She is a Senior Writer with India's Endangered.

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