Over 2000 croc babies born in Bhitarkanika this season

Kendrapara: Wildlife lovers are jubilant as babies of estuarine crocodiles have emerged out of eggshells in and around the crocodile research farm in Bhitarkanika National Park in Odisha`s Kendrapara district.

"Over 2000 croc hatchlings broke out of eggshells to make their way into water-bodies and water-inlets of Bhitarkanika National Park. Fifty-one croc nests had been sighted in the wild this year by the enumerators," said Manoj Kumar Mahapatra, Divisional Forest Officer, Rajnagar Mangrove (Wildlife) Forest Division."

The emergence of fledgling crocodiles was a treat to watch. The rare natural phenomenon that has come to an end recently was watched by ground-level forest staff. The forest personnel maintained safe distance from the nests as human interference turns the reptiles violent," he said

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 crocodiles` eggs was suspended this year as the enclosure where `rear and release` programme of these endangered species takes place, is being repaired. The eggs collected from the wild are hatched here artificially, said DFO Mahapatra.

The rear and release of these hatched reptiles has been going on since 1975, funded by the United Nations Development Programme and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The project in Bhitarkanika tasted success while a similar UNDP-funded `gharial croc` conservation project launched simultaneously in Tikarpada Sanctuary was a failure.

Forest officials said due care has been taken this time by wildlife staff to prevent crocodiles` eggs from being devoured by predators like snakes, jackals and dogs, found in the reserve.

Adequate conservation measures by forest department have led to a systematic rise in the number of these reptiles over the years, claimed forest department officials.

As per the latest census, The number of salt water crocodiles, the species not found in any other river system in Odisha, in Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary stood at 1654.

The wildlife sanctuary had been kept out of bounds for tourists and visitors to ensure disturbance-free annual nesting of crocs. The animals turn violent and restive over human interference in their habitat. The enforced restriction on entry to sanctuary was clamped on May 31 and it would be lifted on July 31, said the officials.

The internationally acclaimed Bhitarkanika Ramsar wetland site continues to be the congenial habitat of salt-water crocodiles with the swampy mangrove-infested region housing the largest number of these reptiles. The region is crisscrossed by innumerable water inlets, creeks and nullahs all forming the part of Bhitarkanika river system.

Wildlife researchers studying salt water crocs are of the view that habitat of these species is getting squeezed in about 26 sq km of water bodies within the national park. These reptiles prefer the ideal water bodies because of its salinity contents.

The salinity level in some of the water bodies might be dropping proving less ideal for crocodiles. It should be intensely studied to ascertain whether desalinised water has anything to do with reproductivity of these sensitive species, according to wildlife researchers, the researchers said.

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