Marginal increase: There are 1,811 saltwater crocodiles in Odisha’s Bhitarkanika, annual census reveals

Bhitarkanika, in the state’s coastal Kendrapara district, is one of 3 ‘saltie’ strongholds in India; the Sundarbans and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands are the other two

A saltwater crocodile sighted in Bhitarkanika during the census. Photo provided by Ashis Senapati

The population of saltwater or estuarine crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) in and around Odisha’s Bhitarkanika National Park has marginally increased in 2024. There are 1,811 crocodiles in the park located in Kendrapara district, according to forest officials who conducted the annual census. Last year, the crocodiles numbered 1,793.

“We formed 22 teams in 51 segments to count estuarine crocodiles in all creeks and rivers within the park and its nearby areas. The census was conducted from January 10-12, a suitable time to count the animals owing to the peak winter, exposure of more than 50 per cent of mud banks and the lunar cycle,” Sudarshan Gopinath Yadav, the divisional forest officer of Bhitarkanika National Park, told this reporter.

Bhitarkanika is the second-largest mangrove forest in India after the Sundarbans in West Bengal. Both areas are among the three strongholds of saltwater crocodiles — the largest reptiles in the world — in India, the third being the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Yadav added that the headcount drive was conducted under the supervision of wildlife personnel. The enumerators, assisted by trained local forest staff and some herpetologists including noted crocodile researcher Sudhakar Kar, covered the Bhitarkanika river system as well as innumerable creeks, water inlets and nullahs.

“During the census, we sighted 582 hatchlings (two feet in length), 387 yearlings (2-3 feet), 327 juveniles (3-6 feet), 167 sub-adults (6-8 feet long) and 348 adults (more than 8 feet long),” Kar said. Last year, 569 hatchlings, 388 yearlings, 325 juveniles, 166 sub-adults and 345 adult reptiles had been sighted, he added.

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The results of past censuses were:

    • 1,192 (in 2000)

    • 1,330 (in 2001)

    • 1,308 (in 2002)

    • 1,342 (in 2003)

    • 1,355 (in 2004)

    • 1,449 (in 2005)

    • 1,454 (in 2006)

    • 1,482 (in 2007)

    • 1,482 (in 2008)

    • 1,572 (in 2009)

    • 1,610 (in 2010)

    • 1,654 (in 2011)

    • 1,646 (in 2012)

    • 1,649 (in 2013)

    • 1,644 (in 2014)

    • 1,665 (in 2015)

    • 1,671 (in 2016)

    • 1,682 (in 2017)

    • 1,698 (in 2018)

    • 1,742 (in 2019)

    • 1,757 (in 2020)

    • 1,768 (in 2021)

    • 1,784 (in 2022)

Human-saltie conflict

Conflict between humans and estuarine crocodiles has been very high of late in Bhitarkanika and its nearby areas. Six persons, including a 10-year-old boy, were killed in crocodile attacks in and around the park between June and August last year.

Only adult and sub-adult crocodiles have the capacity to kill human beings. This means 515 of Bhitarkanika’s 1,811 animals are capable of attacking human beings, added Kar.

BC Choudhury, a former senior scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun, also noted that fatal crocodile attacks have recently been reported from the Jajpur and Bhadrak districts, around 70 to 100 kilometres away from the water bodies of Bhitarkanika.

This means that the estuarine crocodiles from Bhitarkanika have ventured beyond the boundaries of the park. It is not possible on the part of the forest officials to bring them back to Bhitarkanika.

He said this situation was very similar to national parks near the city of Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory.

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“Many crocodiles travel up to 1,800-2,000 kilometres away from these parks and the forest officials bring them back. But they again venture out and reach faraway places,” Choudhury added.


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