The State Government’s decision to stop crocodile breeding at Ramatirtha near Jashipur in Mayurbhanj district has irked wildlife lovers and environmentalists. The breeding centre was an attraction for visitors and researchers for the last three decades.
Along with Mugger project at Ramatirtha, two others - Baula project at Dangamal and Gharial project at Tikarpara - were launched to protect the crocodiles in their natural habitats and rebuild the population quickly through captive breeding (rear and release).
In accordance with the national project on crocodile conservation, a scheme based on the principle of ‘Grow and Release’ under captive breeding of crocodiles was started at Ramatirtha in 1979. The objectives were to rebuild viable population of Mugger in Similipal and conduct management-oriented research.
In 1984, first crocodile breeding was accomplished at the Centre and since then at least 1500 eggs have been hatched.
Besides, in Similipal National Park so far, more than 700 young crocodiles, which were reared in the Centre, have been released in West Deo, East Deo, Khairi, Budhabalanga and Palpala rivers. A census report prepared by a group of PG students of the department of Wildlife and Conservation Biology of North Odisha University in 2003 revealed that more than 150 Muggers were shifted to different river systems in Similipal National Park.
Official sources said there were 80 crocodiles in water bodies inside the Park as per the last year’s report. At least 14 were living in East Deo and Khairi, 10 in Budhabalanga and Kharkhai and 56 in West Deo water bodies.
Besides helping the researchers, the Centre had been attracting tourists from far off places until a few years ago. Breeding of Mugger crocodiles was, however, hampered due to lack of funds from the Government. The number of researchers also declined as they hardly found any species for their research.
Unfortunately, for the last few years, all three crocodile projects have no takers due to lack of funds and proper care of the species. And now the Government has issued a notice to stop operation of these projects due to fund constraints which has annoyed the conversationalists.
Honorary Wildlife Warden Vanoo Mitra Acharya demanded that the Government should allot funds for restoration of the oldest crocodile breeding centre at Ramatirtha. “If the Government fails to provide fund, it should introduce a new policy which would generate revenue from the tourists for the upkeep of the breeding centre,” he suggested.
Regional Chief Conservator of Forest (RCCF) and Field Director of Similipal Tiger Reserve Anup Kumar Nayak said the wildlife staff had closely monitored the project and the conservation of crocodiles, besides studying their behavioural changes.
“Apart from getting involved in conservation and shifting of crocodiles, the breeding centre had also undertaken a research on the crocodile species. Researchers stopped visiting the centre as their population declined due to various reasons. Now the Centre has only two female and a male crocodile. We are planning to release another male crocodile in the centre so that their population can grow,” Nayak said.