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

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Increase in the reptiles’ numbers a cause for celebration but also concern, says expert

A mugger crocodile spotted in Gujarat's Charotar by members of the Voluntary Nature Conservancy.
A mugger crocodile spotted in Gujarat’s Charotar by members of the Voluntary Nature Conservancy.

The number of mugger crocodiles in the Charotar region of Gujarat, located between the Sabarmati and Mahi rivers, has nearly tripled in the past decade, a census by a wildlife organisation has revealed.

The animals have increased from 99 in 2013, when the Voluntary Nature Conservancy (earlier known as the Vidyanagar Nature Club) carried out its first count, to 303 this year.

“This year, we counted 303 individuals. This is the highest number ever recorded. Interestingly, pools where we had been recording very few animals have thrown up a surprise. Instead of the usual two animals, we have found them to be home to over 10 animals. This means the population is increasing and establishing itself,” Anirudh Vasava, executive director of VNC, told Down To Earth (DTE). 

The numbers were recorded for 32 villages. Some of them are given below:

  • Bhadkad (10)
  • Changa (7)
  • Dabhou/Sojitra Road Lake (11)
  • Demol Lake (14)
  • Deva Talpad (17)
  • Deva Vanta (34)
  • Gangapur (0)
  • Gada (3)
  • Heranj (51)
  • Khandhali (6)
  • Laval (5)
  • Machhiel (7)
  • Malataj (11)
  • Marala-Naghrama (11)
  • Nvagam (3)
  • Petli (17)
  • Pij (5)
  • Piplav (6)
  • Roon (4)
  • Sojitra (18)
  • Taranja-Kathoda (3)
  • Traj (40)
  • Vaaru Kans (1)
  • Vaso (19) 

Vasava added that as a scientist and researcher specialising in crocodiles, a large number of animals made him feel elated as well as concerned at the same time. 

“It means there is a definite chance of a negative interaction between humans and crocodiles which may lead to a decline in tolerance levels towards the muggers. We have to think of steps and measures that can be taken to see to it that areas with an increasing crocodile population witness fewer instances of conflict,” he noted.

The VNC has been conducting its winter-time Charotar Crocodile Count since 2013.

The idea was to involve people from all over the country to come to Charotar, be a part of the counting exercise, and most importantly, to witness and record how crocodiles and people co-existed in the region without much conflict.

“Our internal team counts the crocodiles every month. During May-June, the count usually throws up the highest numbers. That is because as water diminishes, crocodiles congregate in selected ponds and become mostly immobile to save energy as their activities are governed by thermoregulation,” Vasava told DTE.

The VNC team decided to invite people at this time too. Yes, there would be higher temperatures. But then, one can also spot such large numbers of crocodiles, added Vasava.

The counting during ‘Wetland Watch’ is done during the night. Torchlight beamed in the dark gets reflected back from the crocodile’s eyes which are covered by a thin membarane. This is called eyeshine. An animal’s eyes appear to glow and as a result, it is possible to spot it in the dark and count it.

“We also count sarus cranes during this exercise rather than focussing on just crocodiles. Because this is when sarus cranes congregate in Charotar. A 100-200 birds can congregate in a single pool at this time which is not witnessed anywhere else in India other than Etawah in UP,” he said.

The summer count was first conducted in 2019. It was halted in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19. The VNC conducted it in 2022 and now, this year.

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