The population of saltwater crocodiles in the water bodies of Bhitarkanika National Park and its nearby areas in Odisha’s Kendrapara district has marginally increased in 2023, according to the annual reptile census.
- Bhitarkanika is the abode of 20 whitish estuarine crocodiles according to the reptile census report.
- In 2006, the Guinness Book of World Records recorded a 23-foot long salt-water crocodile in Bhitarkanika as the largest crocodile in the world.
- The breeding and rearing programme for three species of crocodilians — saltwater crocodile, mugger and gharial — had been started in 1975 in 34 places in West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other states in India and Nepal.
- But the saltwater crocodile conservation programme in Bhitarkanika is the most successful one as in 1975, Bhitarkanika was the home of only 96 crocodiles.
About saltwater crocodiles
- The saltwater is the largest of the 23 species of ‘extant’ or living crocodilians. This includes ‘true crocodiles’, alligators and caimans.
- The ‘saltie’ is today found in three locations in India — the Sundarbans, Bhitarkanika National Park and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It is one of the three crocodilians native to the Indian Subcontinent, along with the mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) and the gharial (Gavialis gangeticus).
- The saltie is also called the ‘estuarine crocodile’ and as the name suggests, is typically found in the brackish water of estuaries.
- It can also tolerate saltwater in the oceans and can travel long distances over the open ocean, making use of tidal currents.
- The Saltwater crocodile is the widest ranging of all crocodilians, but this range was even wider in historical times. During antiquity the species’ range extended from the Seychelles and Kerala, India in the west through to southeastern China, Palau and Vanuatu in the east. Today, the species is extinct in many of these areas, as well as from most of mainland Southeast Asia.
Back to Basics
- Bhitarkanika is the second-largest mangrove forest in the country after the Sundarbans in the neighbouring state of West Bengal.
- Odisha’s Kendrapara District became the only district in India to be home to all three species of crocodilians found in the country. Bhitarkanika National Park in the district is also the home of saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus).
- India is home to three crocodilian species:
- The mugger or marsh crocodile (Crocodylus palustris)
- The estuarine or saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)
- The gharial (Gavialis gangeticus)
- The mugger is the most widespread, found in other South Asian countries too.
- The gharial is found mostly in Himalayan rivers.
- The estuarine crocodile is found in Odisha’s Bhitarkanika National Park, the Sundarbans in West Bengal and the Andamans and Nicobar Islands.
- It is also found across Southeast Asia and northern Australia.
- Project Crocodile started in 1975 with the help of UNDP and FAO. Initially for Gharial and Saltwater crocodile and then Mugger was added.
- Saltwater crocodile: IUCN-Least Concern, CITES-Appendix I, WLA 1972-Schedule I
- Mugger crocodile: IUCN-Vulnerable, CITES-Appendix I, WLA 1972-Schedule I
- Gharial: IUCN-Critically Endangered, CITES-Appendix I, WLA 1972-Schedule I
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