DEHRADUN: After using drones to track the movement of elephants, the Uttarakhand forest department plans to use them for a census of Gharial and crocodile in what may be the first-of-its-kind initiative in India. Earlier, the census was largely manual in which forest staff used binoculars and other equipment to observe from a safe distance.
The last census in 2008 estimated about 123 crocodiles in Uttarakhand.
Now, the exercise will be scaled up to cover entire Uttarakhand after a pilot project in Terai-East forest division of Kumaon division.
“Drones will enable us to explore the areas which are not possible to be visited by humans... It will increase the count. Accuracy will also improve with the application of the technology,” said chief conservator of forests Parag Madhukar Dhakate, who oversaw the pilot project in Terai.
Till date, two methods are employed for counting — one is through navigating water bodies such as channels of rivers, canals, ponds and the breeding grounds of marshy lands, and the other is by catching the reptiles and putting a mark on the tail.
“The drones will reduce time and increase efficiency with better results. Winter season is the best for the census as the animals come out of water for sun,” said Vipul Maurya, project associate, biodiversity conservation and Ganga rejuvenation project from Wildlife Institute of India.
Maurya has worked on various projects, including the crocodile census in 2008. The majority of these reptiles are found in Terai region encompassing Corbett Reserve, Ramganga river and surrounding areas that include Udham Singh Nagar district, parts of Haridwar district and Landsdowne forest, division.
Unlike crocodiles which have a narrower and longer head with a more V-shaped snout, the Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), has a distinctive boss at the end of the snout. The Gharial has 110 sharp, interdigitated teeth in its long, thin snout.