Kendrapara: As many as 1,682 estuarine crocodiles, including those measuring more than 20 feet, were sighted in and outside the water bodies of the Bhitarkanika National Park during the annual crocodile census, said crocodile researcher Dr Sudhakar Kar.
As per the 2017 crocodile census report, the number of crocodiles in the park has increased by 11.
“Out of the 1,682 salt water crocodiles, 608 were hatchlings, 334 yearlings, 266 juveniles (between 3 -6 feet), 172 sub-adults (between 6-8 feet) and 302 were adults (between 8-20 feet),” said Dr Kar.
The enumerators sighted 10 albino crocodiles during the headcount drive.
In 2016 crocodile census, the forest personnel had spotted 1,671 crocodiles in Bhitarkanika river system.
About 77 per cent of the total crocodile population was found in Kanika forest range within the national park, said Bimal Prasanna Acharya, DFO of Rajnagar mangrove (forest) and wildlife division.
The headcount drive was undertaken from January 2 to 8. The forest department had formed 27 enumerator teams, comprising wildlife personnel and crocodile experts. The teams were divided into 53 segments comprising creeks, creek lets, rivers and nullahs in and outside Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary.
The method of census adopted was individual total count by direct day and night time sighting/counting. Each unit was provided with a census kit (map showing the area including rivers and creeks, binocular, spotlight with cells and VHF sets, the DFO said, adding small boats were used for day and night counting in the narrow creeks and creek lets.
The entire day and night census operation was monitored and supervised by Dr Kar, deputed from the Wildlife Headquarters and the DFO.
The Estuarine crocodiles, which are on the verge of extinction in southern Indian states and are rarely sighted in the Sunderban, are abundantly found in the creeks, rivers, and inlets of Bhitarkanika National Park as it gives a congenial atmosphere to the reptile species.
The mangrove ecosystem at Bhitarkanika, which is the second largest patch of mangrove forest in India after Sunderban, harbours the largest population of the endangered salt water crocodiles.
The unique environmental and ecological parameters of this micro-region in a deltaic setting have made the park an ideal habitat for crocodiles. The food chain of this ecosystem has a detritus base of mangrove leaves, said Dr Kar.
Bhitarkanika National park is the only place in India where salt water crocodile headcount drive has been going on every year since 1976, said Dr Kar.
In 2015 census, the forest personnel had spotted 1,665 crocodiles while the figure was 1644 in 2014. PNN