Sunday, August 10, 2014

MUGGER IN GHARIAL NICHE (Preparing for Man-Mugger interface in Satkosia Gorge of River Mahanadi)

I was first shocked to see a photograph where tourist tents were pitched on Ramgaon sands in Satkosia Gorge during the year 2008-2009, and a large mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) was basking at the edge of water. I had pleaded for relocating the tents to the end of the Gorge at Badmul which is more picturesque. As of 2014 no accident has occurred due to crocodiles, and tent-camping is already abandoned at Ramagaon. Management of a crocodile sanctuary may not be compatible to enthusiastic tourism.

Now I am for a discussion about something more serious for the future. First, I must set the stage.

Because of the restocking programme in Mahanadi we are able to see the gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) even now. It has, however, become clear that mugger crocodile is a lot ahead on its way for completely snatching away the address and a part of the profession of gharial in River Mahanadi.

GRACU with glorious start
Mahanadi bank at Tikarpada has the first Gharial Research and Conservation Unit of the country since 1975. The FAO Consultant for FAO/UNDP/Govt of India Crocodile Project was first stationed at Tikarpada. Croc-planning for the country was generating from here till 1979. The Orissa project has provided a bulk of our knowledge on gharial biology and management. The gharial-restocking programme is going on here since 1977.

My crocodile career had taken a start at Satkosia Gorge from 05 June 1975. In January 1981 I moved to Government of India. Apart from imparting training to in-service Forest Officers I got the opportunity to initiate a Field Camp in National Chambal Gharial Sanctuary from May 1983. It was for research on gharial and all its ecological associates. At that time gharial in India were enjoying the most ideal habitat in Chambal. Back in Orissa the situation for gharial was not encouraging.

Non-survival of Gharial in Mahanadi
Four years after my return to Orissa, in September 1991 Mr C. S. Dani, the Chief Wildlife Warden issued an official instruction that in addition to my primary work in Similipal I should make a study and report on various aspects of ‘non-survival of gharial in Mahanadi’. That was an occasion to scrutinize the issues that affected the first gharial project of the country.

By 1991 more than 700 gharials were already released in Mahanadi but hardly 25 were seen. I discussed the issue of non-survival of gharial from several possible angles namely, (a) evolutionary forces acting against gharials, (b) deterioration of the habitat of gharial in Mahanadi, (c) status of gharial habitat in Mahanadi when compared with the habitat in Chambal, (d) our own limited success in eliminating those decimating factors which were identified in 1975 to be acting against gharial in Mahanadi, (e) modifications in management that were not conducive to effective gharial conservation.

Mugger in Gharial River
One of the reasons for non-survival is “Mugger in Gharial's ecological niche”.  It was not the first time that muggers were identified as a factor that may cause problem for gharial. The problem was apprehended since 1979 at Katerniyaghat where it was decided through a symposium and we communicated the decision that mugger crocodiles should not be released in gharial habitats because muggers always had the potentiality to take over the habitat from gharial.

Gharial-rivers didn’t have many mugger crocodiles
Structurally Gharial is adapted more towards living in water or at its edge. It cannot go on long walks away from water as can muggers. By the beginning of 1970s Gharial had got confined to selected perennial rivers of the Gangetic, Brahmaputra and Mahanadi systems. These rivers were better known for gharial than for the mugger. Mugger was secretive, if it occurred. I had taken note of one exception in River Chambal in 1983-85 where the zone expressively occupied by mugger was scarce of gharial and dolphin.

From 1960 Mr L. A. George was in charge of river movement of bamboos on river Mahanadi for the Titaghur Paper Mills. He saw “plenty of gharial together with a few muggers in Mahanadi during 1960s”. I reached Tikarpada early enough in 1975 to meet and interact with Mr George for a couple of years. Reportedly, around 1969 persons from south had killed many gharials and crocodiles with baited hooks.

Retired officers of the state Forest Department have often talked about the abundance of gharial as well as mugger in river Mahanadi during 1930s and 1940s. When we undertook survey of Mahanadi in 1975-1976 we found the river with only eleven gharials and three mugger crocodiles. There were no crocodile nests until we got one with a guarding mother gharial in Satkosia Gorge in 1976.

The survey showed that no crocodilians were left in river Ib, the Hirakud reservoir, in the Mahanadi up to Boudh, and in the tributaries Baghmati and Badanadi.  From Boudh to Satkosia Gorge there were seven gharials and 2 muggers. In Satkosia Gorge there were four gharials and one mugger. Then from Satkosia Gorge to Cuttack there were none. From Cuttack to tidal limits there were no crocodilians except the possibility of presence in tributary Chitrotpala. So, Mahanadi, like other Gharial rivers in the country was indeed very low in number with muggers, and signs of breeding in the wild were not clear.

Compulsion of Manager may become mistake in Conservation!
When I wrote the report in 1991 about non-survival of gharial in Mahanadi 213 muggers were already released in the river. The releases were often defended as a managerial compulsion. The compulsion had arisen because of the project’s own fast-success in captive breeding of mugger at Tikarpada.

Mugger crocodile can live in a range of freshwater habitats and are not very specific in their food habit. As they grow from hatchling to adult food composition may change from insects and fish to live or dead mammals. They can walk on land for several kilometers if the water dries up. They can flourish better than the gharial.

Croc Equation in Mahanadi
From annual survey reports it is gathered that presently a boat trip along the Satkosia Gorge may not show any gharial but will show several muggers of various sizes from hatchlings to adults.
The Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary is now under the Tiger Reserve network. Commitment towards habitat conservation is becoming stronger. The days for mugger in the river are better than the situation in 1960s! So, the species is likely to floursh in Satkosia Gorge and the River Mahanadi, but in the process unintentionally we are at the end of the road towards completely losing the gharial.

Mugger crocodiles are known for peaceful coexistence with people and cattle that use the same water body. But, with increase in numbers of mugger the interface with man is expected to increase. Village impoundments may attract muggers during high flood in Mahanadi.

Thus, there is fear that mugger may create a situation for which in the coming decades the state wildlife administration will have to remain ready. People may wean away their past tolerance to a couple of muggers in the pond they put to their own use.

Precautions needed to reduce possible man-mugger interface
I suggest some precautions for future. These are not complete or only for Odisha (Orissa).

(1.) Do not make special effort to breed mugger unless the habitat for release can accept more. If they are breeding in captivity the process may continue without human interference.

(2.) Do not collect mugger crocodile eggs for captive propagation.

(3.) Do not release any more mugger in River Mahanadi.

(4.) Keep alive the crocodile rearing centres at Tikarpada, Ramatirtha and Dangamal to keep live the art and science of crocodile rearing including capture. Retain the skilled people who can capture crocodiles without fear.

(5.) Do not remove or kill predators of crocodile eggs. Let them defend and balance, naturally!

(6.) Tourists going for boating in Mahanadi need to be educated.
  • People must not hang their feet or hand out of the boat into water when the boat is moving.
  • They must not throw unused meat or fish at camping places.
  • They must not feed muggers. They may create nuisance muggers for future.
  • Nuisance muggers will shed fear for people. They may become bold enough to approach boats and camping places for food. Nuisance animals are created by people who feed them without realising the consequences. This is our experience in temple campuses.
  • Fishermen should be careful when fixing or removing baited hooks in water, and when cleaning their utensils away from normal bathing ghats.

Future of captive mugger crocodiles at Tikarpada
Now there are only two mugger crocodiles and nine gharials maintained in captivity at Tikarpada. These are for educational purposes of the public and students who visit the place.

People who have mastered the art of rearing and capturing crocodiles are valuable to us. Crocodile rearing including their capture and handling is a skill that has been learnt and perfected with experience continuously and gradually over the years. Losing such people and the skill will take us back to 1975.

Gharial for Tikarpada and Satkosia
The restocking programme involving gharial has to be kept continued with young ones brought from captive breeding programme at Nandankanan. That way sighting of Gharial in Mahanadi can be continued and people will not forget gharial for which the project started. The scope for education, research, photography and ecotourism keeping gharial and mugger in focus can be kept continued.

The exercise will also help to keep sharp the skill and technology of rearing gharial both at Nandankanan and Tikarpada. It will help to reduce pressure on captive stock at Nandankanan.

Tags:  compulsion of wildlife manager, conservation mistake, enthusiastic tourism, Gharial non survival in river Mahanadi, man crocodile interface precautionary management, mugger crocodile management, Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary

Sunday, July 20, 2014

AMARENDRA LAL BOSE - Journalist with difference

After return from deputation to MOEF-Govt. of India and Wildlife Institute of India, from 19 November 1987 I started living with my family in the campus of Crocodile Research Centre at Ramatirtha on the outskirts of Similipal Tiger Reserve. Within two weeks, Mr Amarendra Lal Bose (ALB) came with his family to meet us at Ramatirtha. A short, soft-spoken person wearing spotless white dhoti and kurta, Amarendra Babu talked about a range of subjects relating to wildlife and the founder Field Director of Similipal—Mr Saroj Raj Choudhury. I took the family around the crocodile project, and the family left Ramatirtha in the evening for Baripada to their ancestral home. I learnt from the Range Officer that ALB was the main person who introduced Mr Choudhury and his pet tigress Khairi to the world through a series of popular writings in Calcutta-based newspapers. I collected some of the press clippings. Amarendra Babu’s pen was really mightier than a sword when it concerned the safe future of Similipal.

In 1987 Amarendra Babu’s family had invited us to visit them at Baripada but we couldn’t do that until 1995. After my father’s death at Ramatirtha, we shifted to Baripada in November 1994. From that time onwards I found a real ‘friend’ with whom I could discuss research. ALB used to get information about my activities and reach me for answers to a series of questions. Sometimes I felt Amarendra Babu was the only academically-oriented person with whom I could discuss my research at length. It gave me satisfaction and his reports in media were well researched.

When I completed the first ever draft of Project Elephant document for Orissa and discussed the same at a state level meeting on 10 August 1989 in Bhubaneswar, Amarendra Bbau recognized the conservation material in entire exercise and gave it for national readership through Times of India. Similar releases were about research findings related pugmark tracking, melanistic tiger, elephant movements, designing of the first ecodevelopment scheme, the biosphere reserve planning, the sighting of sub-Himalayan Red-breasted Falconet, etc. In his late sixties ALB was able to move in his bicycle and was competing with young persons for reaching a report first.  

Once Amarendra Babu visited us with his wife and suggested to my wife Puspa for daily chanting of Gayatri Mantra for tiding away the difficult times in life and health. After my wife’s death in June 2003, we shifted to Bhubaneswar bringing an end to direct field studies in Similipal. But from my location in Wildlife Headquarters I was able to know about Amarendra Babu’s assuming position as Honorary Wildlife Warden ofMayurbhanj, and then his selection for the award of State Biju Patnaik Prize for Wildlife Conservation in 2010.

On 15th July Similipal lost for everone of its old supporters, I lost a family and academic friend, and Odisha lost one of its wildlife award winners. May the soul of Amarendra Babu rest in peace and his family members have the strength to tide over the loss.


Amarendra Lal Bose, Similipal, Khairi, Baripada, S R Choudhury, Project Elephant Orissa. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Sea Turtle Man Dr Chandra Sekhar Kar

No one in India thought about or fought for the Pacific Ridley as passionately as did Dr Chandrasekhar Kar. The Gahirmatha turtle rookery was discovered for the conservation community by Dr Bustard but Chandrasekhar was the man who stood behind successive Chief Wildlife Wardens and sweated in the office, the secretariat, the High Power Committee and the High Court to gently ensure that Gahirmatha Marine National Park was notified and sustained among all hazards. Turtles are orphaned-- they probably knew it and didn't visit Gahirmatha this year for nesting!
I have lost a close professional friend. The conservation community has lost a person of rare ingredients. May his soul rest in peace!
Turtles will not be orphaned. You, CSK,  have been instrumental in motivating the administration for streamlining several management issues! 

Thursday, April 10, 2014


I didn’t learn it easily that Tiger is safe in nature but safer under human care. We won’t let tiger go extinct!

A little less than forty years back I may have listened to my heart and said that I want only ‘the best’; a species must be conserved ‘only’ in its natural habitat. That was because of the young and immature student of animal sciences in me then.

While working with crocodiles I learnt to recognize their warning when they do not like human presence. One of the lessons I have had from sixteen years’ work later in Similipal is that in a well monitored project a species gives messages to managers when all is not well in nature and there is the need for change in management strategy. One such message is the preponderance of tiger in colour other than the normal yellow body with black stripes.

In one of my earlier blogs I mentioned about tiger in different colours. It took nearly six years to go through the happenings and literature for making some guiding inferences about the occurrence and significance of colour variations. It all started in 1993 from Similipal with Salku of village Podagad who in defense of his father and himself killed a tiger that was discovered to be melanistic. The research that flagged off from Podagad culminated for that time in Florida, USA in 1999.  Dr Josip Marcan read about my colour-study and provided photographs of tiger in different colours. These photographs were God-sent for me as they fitted well to fill up some of the gaps hypothesized in the colour distribution curve from my study.

From those days, with gaps though, an academic link has developed with Dr Marcan. I get the opportunity of studying more tiger photographs sent to me. Out of around 4500 captive tigers in the USA, the Marcan Tiger Preserve owns one of the attractive collections that educates and offer more direct interactions of the public to gain support for Tiger conservation.

A few weeks back Dr Marcan wanted my reflections about captive breeding of tiger. My reply is essentially the same after my lessons from the wild. A lot of work has been done in India and worldwide to keep Tiger safe in nature. Yet, the lesson is, tiger needs a simultaneous safer life and abode under human care. Safaris in India and Preserves overseas are supporting answers to large ‘Tiger Reserves’ and prevent Panthera tigris becoming extinct. The approach offers scope to recognize and care for each tiger individually. No mathematical tiger!.

Back in 2006 and 2008 in my lectures to audience in Nandankanan Biological Park on tiger conservation and future of tiger, I was emphatic, not because I was speaking at NKBP but because of my rugged lessons that NKBP will prove to be an important place for a more secured future for tiger. Tiger in captivity will serve more direct and intense purposes of education, research, species conservation and visitor-satisfaction of sighting the tiger.

People all over the world want tiger to survive so that they are able to see the graceful king of the forests. The destination in the minds of people who love and care for wild animals is to see a Tiger.

But Tiger is an elusive animal. It has survived the wrath of total onslaught by humans for its quality of being elusive. Only occasionally the ‘Tiger obliges a glimpse of him’ in the forest. That is the common experience of old and serious tiger-spotters. People who have lived with families for generations in the forests that ‘abounded’ with tiger complement the statement of spotters by saying, ‘before we see the tiger once he must have seen us a hundred times and gone on its own way; we are not scared of the Tiger’!

Tiger have survived where wilderness continues to exist. As a result of conservation strategies some of the best remaining forests are termed Tiger Reserves. Yet, sighting a tiger on its own is becoming a rarer event day by day, or night by night.

Tiger in the wild continue to be a part of increasing biodiversity crisis due to expanding human population, fragmentation of forests, qualitative degradation of the integrity of wild habitats, and splitting up of tiger populations into smaller groups thwarting their genetic health and prevention of extinction. Tiger habitats need to be maintained inviolate. That is becoming difficult in spite of awareness and concern.

Tiger Reserves meant for conserving the tiger and its ecological associates in natural habitats may be the best places for tiger to live, but they cannot satiate the inner urge of a common man, a child, a young student for ‘sighting a tiger’, and to offer scope for study by serious students of morphology, biology and behavior. If all these are allowed to all the people of the globe the original home of tiger cannot remain inviolate and life of tiger in nature will become shorter still. 

A better and contemporary option is integrating management in the wild as well as in safaris, preserves and captivity. Semi-captive and captive populations are insurance to survival of tiger as a species.

Planned management for captive breeding can ensure an additional and better chance for Tiger to survive beyond the twenty first century. In environmentally enriched captive breeding programme…..
  • Tiger is safer as a species (Panthera tigris). 
  • Tiger is maintained in its morphological diversity.
  • Offers the scope for viewing and ‘feeling’ Tigers for education and research purposes.
  • Educate ‘tiger-oriented’ enthusiasts and tourists and help for relieving pressure on wild populations, wherever they may be.
Therefore, every decision for sending a critically endangered species to wild from the safety and future under human care need to be well justified. 

Monday, February 3, 2014


I have been hearing protests of some kind or the other about stone mining and sand mining from river beds. The first time I ever experienced such protest was in Katerniyaghat Gharial Sanctuary of Uttaranchal in 1979-80. In 1990s and the first decade of 2000s I heard it from Chambal, and now I hear it from the Mahanadi. Individuals or organizations who have objected to such mining apparently have objected to the unplanned method or noisy interventions in the tranquility of river ecosystems.

Without knowing, who will value these, at this stage I wish to put down some of my observations and thought in this connection. I am doing it mainly because I got the opportunity in the past (1975-1991, in particular) to see and study the aquatic fauna particularly in the rivers Mahanadi and Chambal. The stretch of Mahanadi I studied was (apart from that is upstream of Hirakud into Chhatisgarh) from Hirakud to the coast through Satkoshia Gorge sanctuary of 22 km long and through tributaries like the Luna. My main focus was the Satkoshia Gorge. The stretch of Chambal was within National Chambal Sanctuary (470 km long) from Ranapratap Sagar to Pachhnada (close to the confluence of Chambal-Yamuna and Ganges).. 

In my opinion,
(1) There is a lot of siltation and the river beds have got filled up.
(2) The situation has worsened because of water being taken out of the main river without any or much addition from tributaries.
(3) As a result of (1) and (2) flushing of river bed is not as complete as may have been in the past. I do not have hard data for this. But it is a logical conclusion which the Irrigation department could perhaps substantiate.
(4) For longer life of river as a living-ecosystem, we need water throughout its course, at least in the form of deep pools connected with water flow.

(5) I do not intend to infringe into the economics or other public view of sand mining. As an ecologist and conservationist, I wish my rivers survive as live ecosystems for indicator species like gharial, mugger, turtles and dolphin in Chambal, and any numbers out of these species in my MahanadiAs a lay man I would say silent dredging and planned sand mining would restore the river bed to a better vibrancy.