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New Crocodile Nesting Sites Spotted In Bhitarkanika

Endangered estuarine crocodiles have found newer sites like Gahirmatha and swampy patches near Satabhaya to nest this year, much the joy of crocodile conservationists.  

While a record number of 80 nesting sites of estuarine crocodiles were spotted in Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary, the sensitive female crocodiles also preferred Gahirmatha and Baunsagadi rivulet-side wetland to nest. The reptiles had never laid built nest to lay eggs in these spot. Itís positive development, reaffirming Bhitarkanika yet again as the most congenial habitation corridors for the salt-water crocodiles, said Divisionnal Forest Officer, Rajnagar Mangrove (wildlife) Forest Division, Bimal Prasanna Acharya.

There has been marginal increase in the sighting of nests. While it stood at 75 last year, the nest number has gone up to 80 this time. The number of nest may still be more as enumerators could not venture into inaccessible creeks and wetland sites. The female crocodiles who loiter around the nest to protect it from predators often turn violent seeing the intruders, he said.

Majority of the nesting sites were spotted within the core area of the Bhitarkanika national park. The Kanika range accounted for as many as 73 croc nests. The Ganjeikhia creek recorded the highest number of 15 enumerated nests.

The female crocs find the narrow creeks, higher altitude of the site free from high tides to their liking for nesting. The Ganjeikhia creek had the perfect ambience for the nesting thus attracting more female species to indulge in their instinctive natural habit, said the official.  

Bhitarkanika is home to 1682 crocodiles including albino species while the enumerators had counted 1671 species living along the water bodies of the wildlife sanctuary.

Crocodile researchers are of the view that the sighting of nest of these species at new spots like Gahirmatha and Baunsagadi rivulet is an encouraging development.

The Baunsagadi rivulet near Satabhaya is a croc-infested water-body. However nesting site had never been sighted earlier in these patches. Similar is the case in Gahirmatha. The newer nesting sites lends substance to the success of crocodile conservation programme in Bhitarkanika that had begun on 1975 under UNDP funding, said researcher Sudhakar Kar.

The muddy and swampy creeks are tailor-made for female crocs to nests. The mangrove forest cover owing linkage to saltwater creeks is replete with swampy spots, which female crocs prefer to lay eggs. The animals also select sites free from high tides to save the nest from being washed away, he said.  

Female crocodiles lay 25 to 35 eggs and the hatchlings usually emerge from the nests after 70 to 80 days of incubation period.

Forest department officials said due care was taken by wildlife staff so that crocodiles' eggs are not devoured by predators like snakes, jackals and dogs, found in the reserve.

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

The number of salt water crocodiles, the species which are not found in any other river system in Odisha.

The wildlife sanctuary had been kept out of bounds for tourists and visitors to ensure disturbance-free annual nesting of crocs. The enforced restriction on entry to sanctuary was clamped on 31 May and it would be lifted on July 31, said officials.

ďThe population increase of these species has been at a snailís pace. Its growth is getting stabilized and is also getting stagnated.

Nowhere in the country are these species spotted in such abundance.

Wildlife researchers studying on salt water crocs are of the view that habitat of these species is getting squeezed in about 26 square kilo metre 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 desalinized water has anything to do with re-productivity of these sensitive species, according to wildlife researchers.

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