Mugger crocodile and several turtles, both Schedule I animals, burnt to death in Kheda lake

Dredging work had been on at the site for four months now; fire started on May 17

A rescued mugger crocodile, showing burn marks on its skull. Photo courtesy: Rahul Solanki

A 5-foot long mugger or marsh crocodile (Crocodylus plasutris) and a number of turtles, both listed under Schedule I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, died after a fire engulfed vegetation along a reservoir in central Gujarat’s Kheda district earlier this week, officials have confirmed to Down To Earth (DTE).

The reservoir, known as Pariej lake, had been the site of desilting and dredging work when the fire started. “The Pariej reservoir is an old one. It is also a wetland that attracts lots of birds,” Nityanand Srivastava, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest Wildlife and Chief Wildlife Warden, Gujarat, told DTE.

“The water of the reservoir had been drained since February,” Rahul Solanki, president of Nature Help Foundation, a non-profit based in the town of Vallabh Vidyanagar told DTE.

Solanki added that his group got a call from authorities on June 17 about a fire that had started in the area.

“When we reached the spot, our volunteers, who were already there, told me that they had detected several crocodile burrows at the location, which could be having occupants,” he stated.

A dead turtle on a bed of burnt vegetation. Photo courtesy: Rahul Solanki

Solanki and his team then got to work, hacking away at the tall grass that lined the edge of the reservoir. Mugger crocodiles usually take shelter in such burrows during the dry season to escape from the extreme heat, as they are cold-blooded.

“We sometimes found mugger crocodiles beneath our feet as the grass cleared. Luckily, we were able to avoid injuries. However, one juvenile crocodile died, probably due to asphyxiation from all the smoke or perhaps from the intense heat generated by the fire,” said Solanki.

A number of turtles also died, he added.

However, the team was able to rescue at least five other mugger crocodiles. A sixth crocodile was injured and taken for treatment.

Read Mugger crocodiles in Gujarat’s Charotar region have tripled in past decade, count by wildlife non-profit reveals

Kheda lies in the Charotar region of Gujarat, located between the Sabarmati and Mahi rivers. Last year, DTE had reported that the number of mugger crocodiles in Charotar had nearly tripled in the past decade, as per a census by a wildlife organisation.

The mugger’s name is derived from makara, a water monster in Hindu mythology. In Gujarat, the species is also venerated as the mount of Khodiyar, a form of Shakti.

Raju Vyas, veteran Vadodara-based expert on mugger crocodiles, noted sardonically to DTE: “The Government of Gujarat had earlier removed muggers from the Narmada Dam in Kevadia Colony in the name of development. Now, a mugger has been burnt in name of wetland development.”

He added that Pariej, at 8 sq km, was the largest waterbody in Kheda. “There is a forest department guest house and an eco facilities complex at the edge of the reservoir. But none of the officers or staff took any action eventhough this project has been on for over four months. The state irrigation department too should have taken permission from the forest department before undertaking any development works at the waterbody since it is prime mugger and waterbird habitat,” said Vyas.

The rescue manual for mugger crocodiles, issued by the state government in 2019, itself notes that areas known to be used as mating and nesting sites by the species should be protected from any kind of disturbance.

When DTE sent a message to UD Singh, PCCF Gujarat, he replied that he was out of the country at the moment.

“Conditions have been very dry and hot this year. Plants, trees and leaves are tinder dry and can catch fire very quickly. Unfortunately, neither the contractors not labourers executing the project understood this,” Srivastava said.

He added: “The Pariej reservoir belongs to the Irrigation Department. If they could have asked us, we could have told them as which precautions were to be taken.”

Source link

Most Popular

To Top