Bhubaneswar, July 29 (LocalWire): Conservationists have raised questions on the Odisha Forest department’s move to release ‘gharial’ crocodile hatchlings into the wild, as part of their conservation programme, at a time when the rivers are in spate due to monsoon.
The forest department on 20 July had launched a pilot telemetry transmitter project to conserve these reptiles, facing threat of extinction.
The hatchlings that were released in the wild were three year old and one metre long.The department has planned to release 30 gharials in next three years.
The critically-endangered gharial crocodile species, accorded ‘threatened’ status by the International Union of Conservation of Nature, are fast disappearing from Satakosia gorge in Mahanadi river system, their lone ideal habitat in the state, in Angul district.
Despite conservation measures launched in the past, only ten gharials have so far been sighted in the wild by the enumerators.
The ‘rear and release’ method to increase the population of crocodiles has been successfully implemented with regard to the estuarine and mugger crocodiles.
The population of gharials is on a steady decline and so the gharial conservation project recently launched is definitely a welcome step.
But the release of young crocodiles in the rainy reason is not desirable and could be avoided, said crocodile researcher, Sudhakar Kar.
The river is at present turbulent with strong currents. The possibility of young crocodiles being washed away to far-off alien surroundings looms large. The animals may also fall prey to predators in the alien environs, he said.
The winter months spanning from October to January is the perfect period for the launch of such conservation exercise.
The crocodiles reared artificially are always released in the wild in winter months after the species grow up.
The rear and release exercise has been conducted for estuarine and mugger crocs in Bhitarkanika and Ramatirtha in winter months.
So forest department should have waited for at least three months before releasing the young gharials in the wild, he observed.
The forest officials, however, are of the view that the possibility of the ‘released’ crocodiles being washed away to distant places is minimal as the force of the water has been on the lower side this year.
Five gharial crocodiles (three females and two males) were released with biotelemetry transmitters fitted into their bodies to track their migratory movement.
A team of researchers are tracking their day-to-day movement. Five crocodiles have been sighted along the Satakosia gorge till yesterday, said officials of Satakosia wildlife sanctuary.
The forest department had earlier adopted captive rearing of these animals so that their population could register a rise.
But the experiment failed to yield the desired result. Though 800 artificially bred gharials were released in the wild, these reptiles could not be spotted later on.
As the population of these species unlike the salt-water crocodiles in Bhitarkanika is not registering upward trend, it had become imperative to track their movement, said chief wildlife warden, Ajay Kumar Mahapatra.
Incidentally Odisha is the lone state in the country where three species of crocodiles – salt-water, gharial and mugger – are found inhabiting in the river systems.