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Baby Last-Water Crocodiles Emerge from Captive Nests /

Much to the delight of conservationists artificially bred estuarine crocodile babies have emerged out of their eggshells in Bhitarkanika National Park.

The fledgling crocs emerged from the shells sans mothers. The sight of baby crocs breaking out of eggshells and their act of loitering aimlessly around the enclosure of the breeding centre was a visual treat to watch, said forest officials.

 It may be recalled here that crocodile hatchlings had broken out of their eggshells in the wild earlier this month to make their way to water-bodies in and around the Bhitarkanika national park

The emergence of baby crocs from the nests both in captivity and in the wild has marked the culmination of annual breeding and nesting season of these endangered reptiles.

This year, the forest officials had sighted a record number of 80 nesting sites of the estuarine crocodiles in the nullahs, creeks and rivulets of Bhitarkanika river system.

A female crocodile lay about 50-60 eggs in a nest. In the crocodile rearing and breeding center at Dangamala in the national park, we had preserved 48 eggs from the wild to hatch these artificially, said Divisional Forest Officer, Rajnagar Mangrove (wildlife) Forest Division, Bimal Prasanna Acharya.

In some cases the mother crocodile assists her babies in hatching, by gently taking eggs into her mouth and cracking them with her teeth. The mother also guards her offspring for some time after hatching, often allowing them to climb onto her body and head. Nevertheless, baby crocodiles are vulnerable to being eaten by many predators, and this is a high-risk stage of the life cycle, added the forest officer.

“Out of five hundred baby crocodiles, only one crocodile reaches adulthood” , said Dr  Sudhakar Kar the noted crocodile expert  and former senior research officer  of forest and wildlife department of the state

The nests are usually prepared by the mangrove twigs,leaves, mud etc. nests are usually made in areas on a high ground which will not be inundated during the highest high tide of flood waters during the rainy season and where it can get direct sunlight, added Dr Kar.

The forest officials had imposed a three month long ban on the entry of anybody in the National Park during the nesting period of the reptiles as the mother crocodiles need tranquil environment during their mating period from 1st May to 31st, July, said the forest officer.

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

Thanks to the success of the project, the crocodile population has increased from 96 in 1974 year  to 1682 so far. 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.

Bhitarkanika is also home to a 23-foot long salt-water crocodile in Bhitarkanika, which figures in the Guinness Book on World Record as the largest crocodile in the world.

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