Gujarat is the last bastion of the rare Asiatic lions and the state government is doing everything in its power, to not only protect the big cat but also ensure that the species is not translocated to other states, albeit a Supreme Court order directing them to do so.
However, no such love is showered on crocodiles which, just like Asiatic lions and Bengal tigers, are classified as endangered species under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972.
Crocodylus palustris (mugger or marsh crocodile) is categorised as nationally ‘vulnerable’ and has the highest legal protection as it is classified under Schedule-I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972.
Last month, the Gujarat government passed an order to translocate around 300-500 crocodiles located near the Statue of Unity, to avert threat to the visiting tourists and to accommodate seaplanes which will ferry tourists to the world’s tallest statue.
This move has enraged wildlife activists and environmental conservationists who have threatened legal action against the Gujarat State Tourism Department and the state’s Forest Department. Their main concern is the safety of the large reptiles if they are deliberately moved to a different ecology.
Are Crocodiles Near SoU Dangerous?
The Quint spoke with villagers who live in the vicinity of the Statue of Unity and asked them whether crocodiles bothered them or posed a risk to them.
“I have been living here for 25 years and never has a crocodile harmed us. There are around 50 crocodiles that live in the nearby pond; even when we take our boats out, they let us be,” said Ramesh Tadvi, resident of Navagam village in the outskirts of Statue of Unity.
According to Ambaben Tadvi of Navagam village, the crocodiles can be seen basking in the morning sun but they haven’t harmed anyone who ventured close to the ponds to attend nature’s call.
“There was only one instance when a man was attacked by a crocodile, but that happened almost 15 years ago and he survived. He died a few years ago due to natural causes,” Ambaben told The Quint.
According to the Director of the Regional Community Science Centre in Vadodara Dr Jitendra Gavali, crocodiles are afraid of humans.
“I have seen them up close and personal here at Vadodara on the banks of Vishwamitiri river. If you run on the banks infested with crocodiles, they scamper back to the waters. Their point of view is at the ground level and when humans approach, they find the target to be larger because we stand vertically on our feet.”Dr Jitendra Gavali, Director of the Regional Community Science Centre.
Why is Translocation a Bad Idea?
Vadodara-based environmental activist Rohit Prajapti has written a letter to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, urging him to intervene against the translocation of crocodiles.
“These crocodiles have a strong homing instinct and almost always return to their place of origin. This was observed in 2008 when a study was conducted in Narmada which indicated that no matter where you move the crocodiles, the reptile will return to its original location, and during its journey back it will cross paths with humans which can be dangerous.”Rohit Prajapti, Vadodara-based environmental activist.
According to Dr Gavali, the state government is not following the due protocol while translocating the crocodiles.
Dr Gavali said, “These crocodiles live in areas where the embankment of the dyke is sloping and is made of soft mud, which helps the reptiles lay eggs. One cannot say whether these factors are considered by the forest department while moving these large reptiles. Besides, they have not conduced a census of the crocodiles near Narmada. They first said it’s around 500. Now, they say it’s around 300. And so far they have only moved around 10-15 reptiles. Also, can the government guarantee that the crocodiles won’t attack humans once they are translocated?”
Crocodile Park at SoU?
Incidentally, one alternative to the crocodile conundrum near the Statue of Unity is establishing a crocodile park in the reservoirs, which can act as an additional attraction for the tourists.
Dr Gavali said, “Why doesn’t the government work on a crocodile park in the vicinity of Statue of Unity? I mean, this whole project was developed to promote tourism in the area. As far as the seaplanes are concerned, they can be landed away from the State of Unity, in canals where water can be filled in specifically to land the aircraft.”
Even the tourists at the Statue of Unity who spoke with The Quint concurred with the idea.
Balvinder Singh from Jalandhar who had come down to Gujarat to visit the Statue of Unity, was enthusiastic about the prospect of crocodiles becoming a tourist attraction.
“Relocating crocodiles will endanger the species further. Yes, tourist safety is important, but for that one can simply fence up the reservoirs and ensure that people don’t venture into the water. By turning these reservoirs into a crocodile attraction, more people will flock to SoU.”Balvinder Singh, Jalandhar