By Meera Bhardwaj

The appearance and sighting of an adult mugger crocodile (Indian crocodile) in the Kogilabana village of Dandeli in Uttar Kannada district, Karnataka, India has baffled many as the massive reptile literally “Walked the talk” across the populated village for some 9-10 minutes. 

However, even before the forest officials could reach the spot, the crocodile had slipped back into the Kali River waters without harming anybody. Further, the crocodile which entered Kogilabana village on June 30th and roamed around majestically became a source of attraction for the villagers as also the outside world who watched the video of the croc’s walk with wonder.

On their part, district forest officials said such an event has happened for the first time in Dandeli Sanctuary.  Haliyal DCF Dr Ajjaiah said, “This is a very random event which has happened as the village is located right above the river bank. For the first time, we saw the croc moving for some time on a path with houses on both sides. Based on circumstantial evidence and after seeing the location, we can say that it was attracted by kitchen waste comprising slaughtered chicken. So, it might have come out due to this. This is neither a regular event nor based on any set patterns or it may have even lost its way.”

According to S S Ningani, ACF, Dandeli, crocs often come out of the Kali River but usually go back safely without causing any disturbance to the people living on the banks of the river. “There has been no instance of conflict in the recent times and they often come up to the village banks but never has an animal ventured so far.” 

Usually, crocs come out of the waters and bask in the sun on rocky surfaces or laze around in the river banks. Dr H S Prayag, forensic expert and chief veterinary officer, KVAFSU has been observing croc behavior at Bhadra and has also visited the Kali site recently. “We have never seen, a croc walking around like this on a concrete pathway. We have seen events where they have come out of water when the water level rises (during monsoons) like in Bhadravati, Bagalkot, etc. These were conflict situations. Walking on this hard surface would have hurt its legs a lot and exhausted the reptile to no end. Obviously, it will affect as it is not their natural habitat. So, one has to create a natural environment around the river with lot of sands when they come out of the waters.”

According to forest officials, the Kali River is an ideal habitat for crocodiles and there may be 150-200 of them in this sanctuary. To view the crocodiles from a safe distance, the forest department has set up a Crocodile Park. In the park area, one can see some 15-20 crocodiles basking in the sun during April-September. This Park has no fencing or boundaries; therefore, one can sight crocs lounging in their riverine habitat. 

However, wildlife activists stress that this amazing croc came in search of a place to lay its eggs as the nesting area below the high ramp of the Dandeli Crocodile Park had been closed.

 Rahul Bavaji, wildlife activist said, “The new Crocodile Park which has come up here is a welcome step and will help in viewing the crocodiles from a distance. However, there was burrowed spaces below the ramp that was utilized by crocodiles to develop their hatchlings.” 

And, this may be the reason for the crocodile to have ventured out so boldly into the village. But there is no conflict with people and crocs have never disturbed the human settlements despite its proximity to the river, he adds.

Unless and until, there is a valid reason, no marsh crocodile will come up and roam around a village for such a duration. Dr Prayag adds, “Usually when it is shared resources, they either come out for breeding or feeding. If the original nesting site is disturbed, they will look for new ones. I agree with the activists, if the nesting site is disturbed, it may look for a new nesting site.”

However, the DCF added, “The area below the ramp is a private land and it does not come under the jurisdiction of the forest department.”

Apart from this, in the 1950s, the West Coast Paper Mill which was set up in Dandeli, has been releasing pulp waste into the waters of the Kali River. The Halamaddi Nalla is the place where the treated effluents from West Coast and two others mills are released. And wonders of wonder, the crocs have been thronging at this place to feed on the pulp and paper mill waste which according to research studies, is a rich source of organic matter and plant nutrients (recycled to make fertilizers). 

Further, if the crocodiles in Kali River too are thriving on effluent pulp waste (like in Bhadravati) released by the paper mills, there is a need for scientific studies on the effect on these animals, adds Dr Prayag. “Although they are surviving, it is not good for them. A detailed analysis is needed that should include nutritional studies as also forensic tests on dead crocs to ascertain the reasons for death – disease or otherwise. We are ready to collaborate with the forest department as water and visceral samples can be sent to the lab for forensic analysis.” 

The adventurous saga of this 10 feet long crocodile in the Dandeli Sanctuary has generated lot of ecological interest. Further, the need to ascertain how crocs in the Kali River are thriving on paper mill effluents will remain a mystery till it is investigated.