The majority of crocodilian species do not pose a serious danger to people, although like any other wild animal, they will bite when provoked or surprised. A handful of species however are undoubtedly potentially dangerous and are responsible for several fatal and non-fatal attacks annually. If we objectively analyze the reasons behind these attacks, we may be able to minimize them and hopefully convince people that crocodilians are worth keeping around.
Crocodilian attacks on humans are largely preventable, the primary cause being a lack of awareness of the danger they put themselves in. This is why education and awareness are critical. Safety measures when practiced can prevent many attacks.
Species of concern in Gujarat is the mugger or marsh crocodile (Crocodylus palustris). Several non-fatal and fatal attacks get reported from Gujarat, mainly from Vadodara, Narmada and Bharuch. Gujarat has been reporting a high number of incidents and fatal attacks are on the rise.
While there are some individuals, NGOs and forest department officials carrying out awareness work and translocation of “nuisance” crocodiles, there is an pressing need for structured capacity building and training for effective management. We propose to develop awareness material for local communities on safety guidelines in crocodile habitats and to develop training programs for wildlife managers on safe capture and handling protocols, and overall crocodile management in the region.
The plan is a wholesome and proactive approach towards mitigation of conflict. This covers community engagement, safety measures, capacity building of rescuers and forest department officials and also standardizing efforts on a state level. Such mitigation measures can effectively bring down the negative interactions, and ultimately provide opportunities to promote crocodile conservation.
We work in close collaboration with our conservation partner Voluntary Nature Conservancy, a high performance nature protection organization based in Gujarat.
Investigating translocation as a potential cause
With larger species that threaten humans, translocation is often used to shift these animals to areas of lower encounter probability. However recent studies using satellite telemetry to follow crocodile movements indicate that crocodiles are “homing” back to their sites of capture (original habitat). In one case a satellite tagged translocated saltwater crocodile returned to its capture site, traveling 411 kilometres in 20 days. In instances where translocation is used to manage potentially dangerous crocodiles close to human settlements, such an impressive homing instinct could entirely defeat the purpose.
This indicates that crocodiles can exhibit strong site fidelity, have remarkable navigational skills and may travel long distances. Muggers or marsh crocodiles in India are often translocated as a conflict mitigation measure, however increasing media campaigns against crocodiles have resulted in unnecessary translocations. Translocations occur even when there is neither a conflict nor does the animal pose any potential danger. When translocated animals try to return to their original home range, they end up causing more conflicts when moving through human habitats.
It is extremely important to determine the impact of such translocations resulting in conflicts and come up with proper management guidelines. Several rescue NGOs and individuals have been randomly carrying out such translocations on a large scale. A study will be carried out to assess the reported attack information of the past decade and ascertain attacks caused by resident and non-resident (translocated) crocodiles in places with no records in the recent past.