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close this bookBiodiversity in the Western Ghats: An Information Kit (IIRR, 1994, 224 p.)
close this folder8. Reptiles, birds and mammals
View the document8.1 Snakes
View the document8.2 Crocodiles
View the document8.3 Birds
View the document8.4 Mammals
View the document8.5 Animal diversity in prehistoric rock-art

8.2 Crocodiles

India has three species of crocodiles: the mugger or marsh crocodile (Crocodylus palustris), estuarine or salt water crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) and the gharial (Gavialis gangeticus).

The first two species find a home in the Western Ghats. The gharial is confined to the rivers of northern India.

In Goa, a wild population of marsh crocodiles inhabits the mangrove-lined Cumbarjua Canal. It is the only type of crocodile found in this part of the Western Ghats.

Clues for identification

The marsh and the estuarine crocodile rarely occur together in nature. It is difficult to distinguish the two. Look at the shape of the head and the arrangement of scales on the neck.

Mugger or marsh crocodile, Crocodylus palustris

· Amphibious reptile

· Lives in a wide variety of habitats: hill streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, swamps and even estuaries.

· Olive-black coloured back and yellowish-white belly

· Distinguished from the estuarine crocodile by its broad snout and presence of four distinct sharply raised scales behind the head.

· Timid but can be approached closely.

· Both the sexes look similar.


Crocodylus palustris

Estuarine or saltwater crocodile, Crocodylus porosus

· Confined to estuaries and coastal sea water.
· Striking resemblance with mugger, but the two rarely occur together.
· Snout is more pointed than mugger.
· Distinct ridges in front of eyes.
· Very irritable and attacks people habitually.
· Believed to be extinct on the west coast of India.


Crocodylus porosus

Causes of decline

Attitude. Folklore and religious scriptures have fortified myths. Fisherfolk regard crocodiles as a threat to their traditional fisheries. The reptiles' ecological role is not understood. All crocodiles are thought to eat people. Religious scriptures, such as the story of Gajendra Moksha of the Vishnu Purana, project crocodiles as being in league with evil spirits. In the Bible, the crocodile has been depicted as a fire-spitting evil creature called the Leviathan.

Habitat loss. Mangrove forest is a vital part of crocodiles' environment in some parts of the Western Ghats. But the mangroves are steadily disappearing as they provide fuelwood and fodder. Browsing pressure and expanding human settlements also reduce the crocodiles' habitat.

Agricultural activity. Local people collect the fertile, alluvial soil of mudflats to enrich the soil in their fields. Embankments built to reclaim land interfere with crocodile breeding.

Traditional fisheries. Fishing nets are death traps, especially for juvenile crocodiles. Angling and catching crabs and mudskippers can disturb crocodile habitat.

Nest poaching and predation. Both people and water-monitor lizards predate on crocodile eggs. Tribal people, in particular, relish the eggs.

Hunting for trade. Nomadic tribes hunt crocodiles and trade the skin, meat, viscera and eggs. Some tribals use various parts of the animal to treat human diseases. Such claims have not been experimentally verified.

Accidents. Crocodiles can be wounded or killed by boat propellers. They may stray into nearby rice fields or even houses and be killed by the alarmed farmer or resident.

Unplanned development. Construction work causes siltation of the water and blocks light, affecting biological productivity. Construction noise can disturb the crocodiles. Poorly planned wildlife tourism, particularly by the private sector, can also disturb the reptiles. Pollution from industrial effluents and fecal contamination due to inadequate sanitary facilities can degrade the habitat.


Causes of decline

Crocodile myths and facts

Myth: Crocodiles harm fisheries

Fact: Crocodiles are at the apex of foodchain in their habitat and play the ecological role of a predator as well as that of a scavenger.

· Crocodiles hunt predatory fishes which feed on shoals of commercially important fish. By keeping these predators in check, they can actually increase the fish catch.

· Crocodiles scavenge on dead animals and fishes that otherwise would pollute the water and depress fish numbers.

Food chain for crocodiles

Myth: Crocodiles have no commercial value.

Fact: Crocodiles are a valuable natural resource with immense potential for commerce if used on a sustainable basis

· Crocodile farming and crocodile ranching can generate employment-especially for tribals who have field knowledge of their behaviour.

· Crocodile skin can be made into bags, belts, wallets and shoes, and has a good export potential.

· Crocodile tourism: Crocodile habitats have a tremendous potential for wildlife tourism.


Food chain for crocodiles

Crocodiles in religious rites

In many parts of the world, the fear of crocodiles has been supported by religious rites and beliefs.

A stone crocodile is worshipped at the Sun Temple of Konark in Orissa.

In Gujarat, three tribal communities worship Mugger Dev.

In Kathiawar, a crocodile is the mount of the deity Khodlyar Mata.

Crocodiles in warfare

Historical literature shows that almost 40 years before the Portuguese conquest of Goa, crocodiles infested the "Island of Tiswadi" and that they had been defending the island.

Soldiers used to keep crocodiles to help defend land.

Conservation

It is possible to manage the environment to conserve crocodiles. Indeed, the reptiles have returned to many formerly disturbed habitats.

· Retain and manage habitat. This is the ideal way to manage all wildlife. For crocodiles, mangrove cover should be monitored and laws banning mangrove clearing enforced. Alternative fuels should be sought where mangroves are used for firewood.

· Generate funds. To support conservation if crocodile farming could be encouraged. Farming could be done by the Forest Department or tribal cooperatives.

· Restock the wild population by rearing animals in captivity and releasing them in suitable environments.

· Assess environmental impacts of development activity.

· Organize wildlife tourism.

· Promote traditional conservation. The tribal practice of crocodile worship could be promoted as a way of creating public awareness and seeking compassion for the animal on spiritual grounds.

· Generate public awareness through the mass media and signboards near the crocodile habitat.

· Research and monitor wild and captive crocodile populations.

Crocodile farming: Captive breeding of crocodiles

Crocodile ranching: Collection of eggs and juveniles from the wild and growing them to an exploitable size.

Crocodile worship: Mannge Thapnee

The villages of Bhoma and Durbhat on the

Cumbarjua Canal in Goa observe the tradition of crocodile worship with unshakable devotion. A fowl is sacrificed to a crocodile dummy made of clay. This ceremony is known as

Mannge Thapnee.


Mannge Thapnee

Prepared by Manoj Borkar