Managing human-crocodile interactions through science based interventions
Occurrence and extent of marsh crocodiles
The Marsh Crocodile or Mugger (Crocodylus palustris) is one of the common, widely spread and most adaptable crocodilian species in India (Da Silva and Lenin 2010). Mugger population in the state is estimated around 1650 based on the last state wide survey in 1995-96 (Vijaykumar et al. 1997; Vyas 2010). Since then no state-wide survey was carried out, and so the present status of mugger in Gujarat remains obscure, especially in our target districts, Bharuch, Narmada, and Surat districts, under scope of this study. Mugger sightings, their biological activities as well as conflict incidents have been regularly reported from these districts. However, a detailed study for these regions is much needed and findings of which may be part of management plan for the species in its range. To understand the study area more effectively and to collect primary data, we are making field visits to scout the study area multiple times in different seasons.
We are collecting information on occurrence, historical status, current status, distribution and abundance. Population assessments are being made by direct methods like direct sighting and standard night spotlight counts. Day count survey is beneficial in structuring the population in to size and age classes. Night surveys however yields more accurate counts and are hence supplementary to the daytime observations. These surveys provide an index of abundance rather than a total population count, because not all resident crocodiles are present and observed during the surveys. Indirect methods like crocodile signs as tracks in mud, mugger dens/burrows, fecal matter, etc. as well as interviewing local communities are employed.
Human-crocodile conflict surveys
Crocodilian attacks are largely preventable, and usually occur due to lack to awareness by people who reside in crocodilian habitats. Sometimes, people simply underestimate the danger and trust their fate more than their actions.
We have developed an interview based questionnaire to assess conflict scenarios, community perception and attitude towards muggers in their respective areas. The questionnaire includes questions on demographic variables, household characteristics, livelihood, perceptions towards muggers, knowledge regarding mugger, dependency on the wetlands, usage of water bodies and mugger-human interactions. Additional questions regarding mugger translocation activities in and around our survey areas have been included to get an understanding of impact of translocations.
Understanding the community knowledge and current practices in and around local water bodies is crucial in identifying main reasons causing conflicts. Other factors like translocations of nuisance crocodiles need to be further investigated. Once the basis of conflicts is identified, effective, and sustainable mitigation measures will be developed and implemented.
Community awareness and training
Community awareness is one of the most important aspects of crocodile conservation and providing knowledge on safe co-existence with crocodiles is the key. Effective communication through various mediums and tools will be used to empower community to save themselves from potential attacks and dangerous situations. Such awareness is also important to sensitize people in taking responsibilities for their own lives and practicing safety measures. Lack of awareness and sensitivity can easily bring down the tolerance of the community towards crocodiles and can easily hinder the conservation activities. We are working towards a well structured program focusing mainly on preventive measures that are feasible and reflect corrections in their current practices.
We work in close collaboration with our conservation partner Voluntary Nature Conservancy, a high performance nature protection organization based in Gujarat.