Context: The annual Saltie Census 2023 in Bhitarkanika National Park and its adjacent areas in Odisha’s Kendrapara district reveals a slight rise in the saltwater crocodile population for the year 2023. In 2023, 1,793 crocodiles were counted, including 20 whitish individuals, compared to 1,784 reptiles sighted the previous year.
Bhitarkanika has one of the largest populations of endangered saltwater crocodile in India and is globally unique in that, 10% of the adults exceed 6 m length. Nearly 1671 saltwater crocodiles inhabit the rivers and creeks.
IUCN Status: Saltwater Crocodile, Mugger Crocodile and Gharial, are listed as Least Concern, Vulnerable and Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Scientific Name: ‘Crocodylus porosus’
Conservation Schemes: The Crocodile Conservation Project- 1975 in Collaboration with UNDP, Project by Government of India/FAO/UNDP on crocodile breeding and management
Major cause of Concerns: Man reptile conflict
Major Habitat: Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary of Odisha
“22 member teams was setup to count the estuarine crocodiles in all the creeks and rivers within the park and its nearby areas. The peak winter, exposure of more than 50 per cent of mud banks, and the lunar cycle are suitable periods for counting the reptiles.
What census Data Reveals?
The census results revealed a distribution of crocodiles in various age categories. The distribution included 569 hatchlings (two feet), 388 yearlings (2-3 feet), 325 juveniles (3-6 feet), 166 sub-adults (6-8 feet long), and 345 adult reptiles (longer than 8 feet).
Compared to the previous year, the numbers were as follows: 564 hatchlings, 378 yearlings, 338 juveniles, 158 sub-adults, and 346 adult reptiles.
Additionally, the census report revealed that Bhitarkanika is home to 20 whitish estuarine crocodiles, making it a unique habitat for these creatures.
According to report, historical data reflects the crocodile population’s progression in the region:
- 1,192 estuarine crocodiles in the 2000 census.
- 1,330 crocodiles in the 2001 census.
In the subsequent years, the following figures were recorded:
- 1,308 (2002)
- 1,342 (2003)
- 1,355 (2004)
- 1,449 (2005)
- 1,454 (2006)
- 1,482 (2007)
- 1,482 (2008)
- 1,572 (2009)
- 1,610 (2010)
- 1,654 (2011)
- 1,646 (2012)
- 1,649 (2013)
- 1,644 (2014)
- 1,665 (2015)
- 1,671 (2016)
- 1,682 (2017)
- 1,698 (2018)
- 1,742 (2019)
- 1,757 (2020)
- 1,768 (2021)
To conduct the Saltie Census 2023, the team used spotlights at night and Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to accurately count the saltwater crocodiles. They also relied on photographic interpretation, using digital cameras with precise location and time data, to measure the length and age of the crocodiles. The total length of a crocodile is approximately 7.5 times the length of its head, making it possible to estimate the reptiles’ size from photographs of their heads.
A growing density of reptiles and the ever-increasing anthropogenic pressure. It has resulted in at least 10 fatalities in crocodile attacks in the past year in Odisha’s Bhitarkanika National Park.
The significance of the crocodile breeding and rearing project initiated in 1975 in Dangamala, Bhitarkanika, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme. This successful project has led to the population’s growth in the park and its adjacent water bodies. In 2006, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized a 23-foot-long saltwater crocodile in Bhitarkanika as the world’s largest crocodile.
The conservation efforts for three crocodilian species—saltwater crocodile, mugger, and gharial—initiated in 1975 have had notable success. Particularly in Bhitarkanika, which was once home to only 96 crocodiles in 1975.
These conservation initiatives have played a significant role in maintaining. Also protecting the unique saltwater crocodile population in the Bhitarkanika region.