While I marvelled at the ingenious idea of Bangalore based NGO in bringing attention of civil authorities towards the dangerous pot-holed roads, by filling the pot-holes with life-like crocodiles and more recently Anaconda, I remembered one such visit to Crocodile Bank near Mahabalipuram, some 40 km from Chennai, Tamilnadu.
I remember, how I was surprised to hear about crocodile breeding…..such dangerous animal, I had thought, why would anybody want them to increase in number? But I was very much wrong obviously!
Nature has its own system of balancing the ecosystem….if there is increase in number of any one species, the balance goes for a toss. Predators have an influential role in an ecosystem and are known as ‘keystone species’ because they keep a check on increasing number of other smaller animals. Crocodiles and alligators keep the rivers clean by eating carcasses of other species and balance the habitat population.
The dwindling natural habitat of crocodile due to construction, farming, mining etc besides hunting for crocodile hide has affected the population of crocodile and alligators as well and world-wide measures to prevent extinction of this beast of animal are in practice in many countries like Australia , USA and South East Asian countries.
The “Crocodile Bank“at Mahabalipuram is one such endeavour to conserve and sustain environment. This project was founded way back in 1976 by a German biologist Romulus Whitaker.
The bank boasts of at least 14 varieties of crocodiles and alligators which include African, American, Mexican and Siamese crocodiles. They even have separate enclosures for many varieties of turtles and snakes.
I remember the repulsive sight of snakes hissing and slithering over each other in a huge pit which was covered with a wire mesh to prevent accidental escape of the poisonous reptile.
The crocodiles and alligators, enjoy natural habitat created for them with lot of lush tropical plants for shade, ponds and large enclosed space for roaming freely.
Lot of visitors flock to the Crocodile Conservation Centre of the bank which is the largest breeding centre in India. The fun part is that since the reptiles are in separate enclosures, visitors can have a close look at them without compromising on safety. The centre also encourages visitors to handle baby crocodiles and alligators to understand and emphasise on conservation of ecosystem. It is important that we should not see crocodiles in their natural habitat as threat, but as guardians of river ecosystem.
That however, does not mean that we should not be alert about the danger lurking somewhere when we visit a lake or river…a natural territory of these reptiles!!
When we visited the bank in 2007, my daughter was a mere 8 year-old. She was excited and scared all at once, to hold the baby crocodile. As I clicked away not wanting to touch the little slippery baby, the father-daughter duo tried handling and holding the little reptile feeling its spiny skin, small but sharp enough to scratch pointy teeth and soft yellowed belly.
The bank also has a snake farm, where they extract venom and make anti-venom. It is one of the largest venom producing centre in India. The bank is involved in a project ‘Integrated Environment Education’ to create environmental awareness for preservation of reptiles.
Conserving environment is a duty for all of us…it doesn’t have to be dangerous animals only… I might be little vary of the creepy crawlies and wince at the sight of a lizard just above my bed but I am very much into planting trees for the environment and am a big time nag when it comes to saving water…..Well, to each his own..
However, now that I am reminded of what one of the bank staff told me about the predators being the key elements in balancing the nature, I have started accepting the little baby lizards that crawl in sometimes…these small reptiles in almost all homes eat mosquitoes and other insects after all!!
Happy co-existence with all things in nature is definitely the need of the hour to conserve and sustain our ecosystem.