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Chennai: Transfer of 1,000 India crocodiles raises thorny question

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Image source, Jerin Samuel

A crocodile breeding centre in India is in the process of shifting 1,000 crocodiles to a zoo located some 1,931km (1,200 miles) away – and owned by billionaire Mukesh Ambani.

Last year India’s zoo regulator approved the transfer of mugger crocodiles from Madras Crocodile Bank Trust in the southern state of Tamil Nadu to Greens Zoological Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre in the western state of Gujarat. About 300 crocodiles have been relocated to Gujarat so far.

Officials of the 8.5-acre breeding centre said the crocodiles were being relocated as overcrowding in their original home was leading to fights.

“Because of overpopulation at the bank, hundreds of crocodile eggs are destroyed every year,” says Nikhil Whitaker, curator of the centre in Chennai city. “The decision to shift the crocodiles was taken to give them a better space to live in,” he adds.

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Over the years, the bank has been sending its crocodiles to protected areas and zoos across India. However, this is the first time that such a large number of crocodiles are being shifted.

The 425-acre, three-year-old zoo in Gujarat’s Jamnagar city has said in its latest annual report that the crocodiles “will be given adequate space, food and care”.

The breeding centre in Chennai was started in 1976 for conserving mainly three native species of crocodiles – muggers, saltwater crocodiles and gharials.

It initially had around 40 crocodiles, and the goal was to protect them so that they could multiply and their populations could be released into the wild to restock their natural habitats.

Crocodile transfer

Image source, Jerin Samuel

A federal government order in 1994 put a stop to captive-bred crocodiles being released into the wild, Mr Whitaker said. Since then, the bank had to make do with relocating a few crocodiles every now and then to zoos and wildlife sanctuaries.

With wildlife areas shrinking and zoos being able to take in only a limited number of crocodiles, they have been running out of places to send their surplus crocodiles, officials said.

Officials at the breeding centre said the crocodiles will travel to Jamnagar in wooden boxes in a temperature-controlled vehicle.

“Since captive crocodiles need to be fed only once a week, they will be fed before the journey,” said Mr Whitaker.

Conservationists have raised doubts about the relocation as a solution to overcrowding at the breeding centre. Wildlife biologist P Kannan said since the reptiles will be kept in a closed space in their new home too, the problem will persist.

“There’s no sterilisation method [for crocodiles] available yet and male and female crocodiles cannot be kept in separate enclosures for a long time as this leads to fights,” said Mr Kannan.

Crocodile transfer

Image source, Jerin Samuel

The BBC reached out to the zoo in Gujarat for more details on steps being taken to keep their crocodile population in check, but has received no response yet.

S Jayachandran, honorary secretary of the Nilgiri Wildlife and Environment Association, said that instead relocating animals, India should increase its protected areas for wildlife.

“If there was enough space for crocodiles in the wild, they would not have to be relocated to a zoo.”

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