May 2012: Rahul Alvares has spent many enjoyable hours at the Madras Crocodile Bank interacting with some of nature’s most fearsome creatures. He tells you about his experiences.
Three species of crocodiles live in India; the gharial, the saltwater crocodile and the mugger. The mugger or the marsh crocodile is the most widely distributed of the three and is the only one found in Goa. My first experience with a crocodile was when I was about nine years old. My dad had taken me to the Madras Crocodile Bank. Romulus Whitaker, Sanctuary Lifetime Service Award winner in 2006, who set it up, showed us around and the highlight of the trip was when he let me hold a tiny baby crocodile!
Six years later I returned to the Croc Bank. This time it was going to be much bigger crocodiles and more serious stuff – transferring crocodiles from one enclosure to another, removing croc excreta from the pens every morning, feeding the crocs twice a week and collecting the eggs during the breeding season.
Photograph by Rahul Alvares.
Capturing crocs to transfer them was the most exciting part. First, Gerry Martin, herpetologist and Sanctuary Wildlife Service Award winner in 2011, would gingerly noose the selected crocodile. Then, someone would throw a sack over its eyes and two persons would simultaneously jump onto the crocodile: usually an experienced person would jump onto the neck of the crocodile and I would get to jump onto the base of the tail! Then the croc’s mouth would be bound, the entire croc shifted onto a ladder, lifted by several men, transferred to another pit and all the above steps reversed to set it free into its new enclosure.
Mugger crocodiles are much less likely to attack a human than saltwater crocodiles. In Goa, though muggers frequently inhabit the same canals that local fishermen wade into to fish, there is almost never any conflict between the two. The photographs on this page were taken on the boat trips I organise for my clients. We ply the Cumbarjua canal looking for interesting birds and we usually see at least one or two muggers hiding in the mangrove vegetation. Shy animals, they would quickly swim away if we went too close.
Muggers mostly feed on fish. But they are pretty adaptable in their diet and will eat just about anything they can overpower. J.C Daniel’s book Reptiles and Amphibians mentions that the recorded stomach contents of the mugger have included leopards, wild dogs, hyenas, chital, sambar and nilgai fawns, four-horned antelope, barking deer, monkeys, domestic dogs, goats, calves, pigs, ducks, a variety of wild birds, snakes and soft shell turtles!
Photograph by Rahul Alvares.
Muggers will lay between three to 40 eggs in a nest dug into the ground. The mother is extremely protective of her eggs and will attack anything that comes close to the nest. One interesting thing about crocodiles is that the sex of the babies is determined, not by genes, but by the temperature the eggs are hatched at. At a certain temperature, all offspring are female and at another temperature, all male.
by Rahul Alvares, First appeared in: Sanctuary Cub, May 2012