Archive for the ‘Crocodiles’ Category

Shed some tears for sea-surfing Colombo crocs

September 28, 2015

Two weeks ago, the Sunday Times reported about a crocodile that took refuge in a home garden at Rawatawatte. Crocs are making news once again. This time, it is crocodiles from the sea.

The buzz about the crocs began last week with somebody seeing a croc in the sea off Mount Lavinia. Since then the croc made waves of news, making appearances here and there. It was last seen alive in the sea off Kollupitiya on Wednesday, riding the waves of the rough sea. But the following day, its lifeless body was seen being carried away by the waves.

But that was not the end of the story. Reminding us of a Hollywood thriller, where the end scene shows the problem is still not over when everyone thinks it is, another croc emerged in the Dehiwala sea on Thursday. It was later seen moving towards the Port City in the seas off Galle Face.

But unlike the man-eating monster crocodiles in Hollywood movies, the crocs in the Colombo Sea have not harmed anyone. But fishermen and visitors to the beach see them as a threat due to natural fear. Some have tried to catch them, throwing fishing nets and hooks or other methods that cause injury to the animal.

Dr. Tharaka Prasad of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) who conducted the post mortem examination of the crocodile says the poor animal had a tear wound on its underside. The croc’s stomach was empty; it had not eaten in many days. Usually sea crocodiles use ocean currents to move around, but the sea was very rough during this week.

The presence of the agitated people who tried to catch the croc, did not allow the animal to come to shore for basking and rest. Dr. Prasad believes that a combination of these reasons has weakened the Colombo croc and caused his early death.

This croc was a 12-foot long young male and could be about 8 years old. It is known that crocs inhabit the Bolgoda Lake, Werasganga, the Lunawa Lagoon and even in the Wellawatte Canal secretly.Seeing crocs in the sea is not a new phenomenon.

The Sunday Times has reported at least two such croc sightings. On March 2012, we reported about a croc seen in the same stretch of the sea off Colombo.

The headline read: ‘Crocodile in Dehiwala sea does not spoil fun of two-mile swim’. A January 9, 2011 story in the Sunday Times carried the headline: ‘Offshore Croc has Matara abuzz’.

Again it was we who first reported in 2007 about a crocodile living in the Wellawatte Canal. No untoward incident has happened so far, indicating that man and crocodile can co-exist, provided one does not stray into the territory of the other.

Dr. Anslem de Silva, Chairman of IUCN Crocodile Specialist Group for South Asia and Iran, says some crocs, especially the males, may migrate to other localities via the sea. For instance, they may move from the Wellawatta canal to the Panadura/Moratuwa area and vice versa.

A few centuries ago, they might have made this journey over land without being noticed by humans. But today, their land path is blocked by concrete jungles. Besides, the people react with panic when they spot a crocodile, the croc expert says.

“Seeing crocs in the seas off Colombo and its suburbs is not unusual. Several old records speak of saltwater crocodiles.

In fact, they could travel a few thousand km in the sea,” says Silva adding that he himself had come across the ‘salties’ – as they are fondly called – in the seas off the western, eastern and the Southern coasts in recent times. Of these, one was captured, two escaped and two were killed.

Roaming off Dehiwala on 21.09.2015 (c) Adrian Meedeniya

Roaming off Dehiwala on 21.09.2015 (c) Adrian Meedeniya

Dr. de Silva recalled that the Maldivian authorities seeking his assistance for solving a crocodile problem in their islands about a year ago.

The Maldives has no native crocodiles and the nearest area with a crocodile population is southern India and Sri Lanka, more than 400 km away.

It is believed that the crocodiles use oceanic currents to ride large distances without much effort. It is said that there are records that salties navigate 2,000 kms in the open sea.

If you see a crocodile in the sea, there is nothing to panic. Just keep your distance and let the animal as it is. Remember that animals too are subject to agitation, exhaustion and can sometimes also forced to act in self defence.

If you see an agitated crocodile either in the sea or on land, call the Department of Wildlife Conservation without trying to act, advises Dr. de Silva.
(M.R.) Published on SundayTimes on 27.09.2015 

Colombo Croc Dies

September 23, 2015

The Crocodile that ride on the waves for last few days on the sea off Colombo Colombo was reportedly dead yesterday evening (23.09.2015). It was disturbing to see the lifeless body being carried by the waves particularly for the animal lovers. Crocodiles off Mt.Lavinia, Dehiwala, Colpetty sea is reported once in a while, but after few days, they believed to be find their way back to the inland waterways they were living in.

Feared by its presence, the local people and fishermen also tried to catch the crocodile on their own using fishing nets. It is feared that hooks used in these failed attempt could injure the crocodile. The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) veterinary surgeons carried out its postmortem.

Published on Times Online on 24.09.2015

Dead body of Colombo Croc carried away by the waves (c) DM

Dead body of Colombo Croc carried away by the waves (c) DM

MAH06957[21-55-493-600-1 MAH06957[21-56-173-600-2

Croc terror in Colombo Sea – this is not the first time and nothing to panic..!!

September 23, 2015
The Croc off Dehiwala on 21st sept (c) Adrian Meedeniya

The Croc off Dehiwala on 21st sept (c) Adrian Meedeniya

Sighting of a crocodile in the shallow sea off Mt.Lavinia, Dehiwala, Colpetty terrorized the people in the area. But this is not a new phenomena as crocodiles are reported in the sea on many occasions. In March 2012, just few days before famous 2 mile swim, a croc was seen off Dehiwala. But the event took place without any problem.

In January, 2011 a Croc that come to bask on a rock near Matara Town become a celebrity drawing huge crowd rushed to witness it. In 1999 another croc got entangled in fishing nets in the sea off Moratuwa. Many thinks that the salt water will harm the croc and will kill the beast eventually. But this species that we often found in the sea is known as Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) that can adopt to a living in the sea.

Like in 2012 where croc disappeared after few days, most probably find its way to the home – the croc that can be seen off colombo too go peacefully this time too. Until that people need to act carefully, but there is nothing to panic calls the experts.

Following are links to my stories about the crocs found in Sea and around Colombo

  1. Crocodile in Dehiwala sea does not spoil fun of two-mile swim – March, 2012 :
  2. Offshore Croc has Matara abuzz 
  3. A croc comes to town – Dec, 2007 
  4. The saltie that terrorised Rawatawatte – Sept, 2015 

The saltie that terrorised Rawatawatte

September 18, 2015
Neighbours woken in the wee hours by the news that a croc had entered their garden hoped it was just a bad dream. Malaka Rodrigo reports 
A resident of Dharmaratne Avenue in Rawatawatte, Moratuwa, was returning home after his night shift around 2 a.m. when his van’s headlights picked out something that looked like a slowly moving log. Disturbed by the sound of the vehicle the “log” came to life, lunging to the side of the road and entering a neighbour’s garden. The resident got home and told his father, D. Perera, who telephoned and alerted the neighbour to the presence of the trespasser.

The police were called on 911 and with the Pereras and their neighbours began a search with torches. Soon the trespasser was found, lost and equally or more terrified than the search party – a 7.2-foot saltwater crocodile. The police and residents managed to corner the croc near a wall and called the Department of Wildlife Conservation. One person also alerted a croc expert, Avishka Godahewa, who lives close by. Mr. Godahewa, a member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Crocodile Specialist Group, is permitted by the Department of Wildlife Conservation to handle wild crocs.

Guess who came to the garden? A 7.2-foot saltwater crocodile

Guess who came to the garden? A 7.2-foot saltwater crocodile

With the department’s approval, he rushed to Rawatawatte to take care of the intruder. Although a fearsome predator, the Rawatawatte croc was a frightened beast in unfamiliar, hostile territory.

After checking out the croc, Mr. Godahewa decided how it should be captured and carried out the rescue mission with the assistance of his father. The croc was not tired and had plenty of fight left in it, so capturing it was not an easy task as the onlookers’ safety had also to be considered; the whole neighbourhood had by now gathered to see the croc. Mr. Godahewa tied up the crocodile and took it quickly to a safe croc habitat. As soon it was released the croc rushed to the water in relief at returning to familiar territory.

Sri Lanka is home to two species of crocodile: the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) or geta kimbula in Sinhala, is larger than its cousin, the mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) or hala kimbula. The Sri Lankan population of saltwater crocodiles is considered endangered and some of the wetlands such as the Weras Ganga and the Lunawa lagoon in Colombo are the last hideouts of this species in the Colombo suburbs. Hence, even though it is a feared creature, it is important to protect the remaining individuals.

“I was woken by the SOS call from a panicked neighbor,” he said of that day, August 29. “I don’t call them nuisance croc calls but croc rescue calls as otherwise terrified people continue harassing the crocs, even killing them,” he said.Twenty-year-old Avishka Godahewa, the youngest member of the IUCN’s Crocodile Specialist Group, has so far rescued about 10 crocodiles from the Rawatawatte area.

Dharmaratne Avenue is a highly residential area and the nearest water source is about 300-400 metres away. The crocodiles have a habit of leaving their waterholes at night to go in search of food or other waterholes, Dr. Anslem de Silva, the country’s foremost expert on the reptiles, said.

Three more crocs were rescued in Ambalantota in the Hambanthota District in the past few weeks. One had trespassed into a home garden close to its waterway while the other two had become entangled in fishing nets laid in a small village tank, the Nonagama Wewa. All three were mugger crocodiles. Wildlife officers caught them safely and released them to the Udawalawe tank.

Capturing the crocodile was not an easy task

‘Gaddafi’ catcher was here to train local croc hunters

Steve Irwin’s famous Crocodile Hunter episodes shown on television made catching a croc look easy but it is an extremely dangerous job: a simple mistake could cost the hunter a limb or his life. 

To help Department of Wildlife Conservation officers learn how to catch and rescue trapped or straying crocodiles training seminars were held recently led by internationally-acclaimed crocodile hunter, Peter Prodromou.
Mr. Prodomou has worked in Uganda with Nile crocodiles. He became famous for catching a killer croc called Gaddafi that accounted for three lives in Uganda. Before catching this croc, Peter used methods such as placing a dummy of a human child to check which croc attacked first in order to single out the culprit responsible for the attacks. 

In Sri Lanka, soon after an attack, people hurriedly put out bait to catch a crocodile that comes close to the area. While this might snare the real culprit as crocs are usually territorial, there is a higher chance that one that is not responsible for the attack gets caught.
During the training, Mr. Prodomou showed the wildlife officers easier techniques such as using floating baits to catch a nuisance croc. The training was organised for the DWC by Avishka Godahewa, together with his brother, Avinda, and a colleague, Mafas Mohammed, both of whom are also members of the Crocodile Specialist Group. 

from the training on how to catch a croc

Published on 13.09.2015 on SundayTimes on

Wildlife enthusiasts become foster parents to 20 crocs

November 6, 2013

Many are the negative stories reported regarding conservation of animals, especially that of reptiles.  But proving this trend wrong, a group of wildlife enthusiasts hatched a clutch of crocodile eggs and they are now the proud foster parents of baby crocs.

Making an entry to the world: An egg hatches under the protective care of WCSG members

The group is none other than the Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle (WCSG).The happy ending had its beginnings about two months ago when a group of villagers who stumbled across a nest of crocodile eggs in the Kaluwamodara swamp in Beruwala handed over the eggs to the police who in turn handed them over to the Hikkaduwa range office of the Department of Wildlife Conservation.

The eggs eventually found a resting place at the WCSG centre in Hiyare, Galle, that runs a wildlife rescue programme. Next, followed plans to set up the ideal conditions necessary for the eggs to hatch. A female crocodile usually builds a nest, a mound consisting of vegetation, on the bank of any water hole.

The WCSG team wasted no time in building a similar safe environment. The decaying vegetation usually generates the heat required for the eggs to hatch. WCSG’s president, Madura de Silva said crocodile eggs required 80% moisture and a temperature of about 30 – 35 degrees Celsius and the temperature was constantly monitored.

Keeping a close eye on the eggs in the absence of motherly love (above) and (below) noting the temperature ideal for the eggs

He said unlike mammals, the sex of a crocodile is not determined by sex chromosomes but by the difference in temperature, with relatively low temperatures producing mainly females and high temperatures mainly males.

Crocodile mothers are known to be very protective of their eggs and it emerges out of the water often to keep an eye on the nest. At the slightest sound from the eggs the mother croc digs open the mound of vegetation so that the young ones have easy access once the eggs hatch.

In this instance, however, it was not the mother but the group of WCSG members who kept constant vigil and kept their ears open for the slightest sound from the nest. The baby crocs have an egg-tooth at the tip of their snouts that helps them to crack open the shells.

Most people are under the misconception that crocodile mothers eat their young.  But what they do is take the young ones in their mouth while they are in the water to protect them from predators. The family remains in a group for several months under the close eye of the mother.

In this instance, WCSG members will take care of the 20 baby crocs, which are being fed live mangrove crab, fish and shrimp, for about three months before they are handed over to the Wildlife Dept. to be released to the wild,” Mr. de Silva said.

A handful: 20 baby crocs check out their environs

Published on SndayTimes on 20.10.2013 

Suspect croc gets swung around

April 26, 2012
An alleged killer crocodile captured with great difficulty by a wildlife team is rejected by the Dehiwala Zoo and finally released into the Yala National Park – Malaka Rodrigo reports from Matara
A 12.2-foot male saltwater crocodile, the reptile believed to have killed an 18-year-old Matara schoolgirl, was captured last Sunday (April 15) by a team of young environmentalists and wildlife officers.
Led by Dr. Tharaka Prasad of the Wildlife Department, the team set up a baited box trap designed for the purpose on the banks of the river Nilwala, some 100 metres from the spot where the girl had been seized by a croc.The trap was submerged and camouflaged with twigs and branches. The team meanwhile set up camp in a nearby school, Malimbada North. To ensure that the reptile, if trapped, would not die in captivity, the team kept a 24-hour watch, intermittently checking the trap, day and night. Crocodiles are cold-blooded creatures that need to regulate their body temperature by moving its body; it could be fatal for a croc to remain confined in a close space indefinitely.

Wildlife officers and volunteers struggled to subdue the 12.2 foot crocodile. Pix by Krishan Jeewaka Jayaruk

Dedicating their Avurudu vacation to the cause, the team waited patiently, fearing angry villagers might trap the crocodile themselves and kill it. The giant Ragama crocodile that was caught recently died as a result of blows sustained and also injuries caused by the hook used to bait the amphibian.

The crocodile was captured on Sunday morning, three days after the trap was set. The powerful reptile thrashed around furiously as the team dragged the box trap on to land. News spread fast, and in minutes a crowd of villagers had gathered to view the reptile.

When the Sunday Times came on the scene, a police team was in place to control the crowd and keep the villagers of Malimbada clear of the trapped croc. The next stage of the operation was to get the croc out of the box trap, and tie it down to be taken to another location. The moment the trap was opened, the crocodile attempted to rush into the water. The team tied its tail and strapped the animal around the neck and gaping mouth. Some sat on the croc to clam it while it was tied up.

There was a round of applause from the villagers once the creature was finally subdued. The creature was then taken to the Malimbada North School, followed by the crowd. “We could have caught the animal earlier if the villagers had not disturbed the animal,” said team member Sujeewa Chandana. “When you disturb an animal’s habitat, it moves away. It takes a few days before the animal returns to its home ground.”

Unlike the Ragama crocodile, this crocodile did not suffer any ill-treament at the hands of its captors. In fact, the villagers took turns to pour buckets of water on the reptile to prevent it from getting dehydrated.
As the reptile was being removed from the village, the rescue team had to take it past the home of Nuwanthika, the schoolgirl victim. Her parents stood looking on, tears in their eyes. The mother was heard to say, “Please take away it from here.”

There were reports of the safe house or enclosure for Nilwala Ganga crocodiles was to be set up in Kirala Kele, a few kilometres away, and that the captured crocodile could meanwhile be accommodated at the Dehiwala Zoo.

The rescue team was already on its way to the zoo, and was close to Colombo, when they received a message that the Dehiwala Zoo could not accept the crocodile. The team was forced to turn back. Their only option was to head to the Yala National Park, where the saltwater crocodile was released into the wild.

Published on SundayTimes on 22.04.2012

Indian team happy to help set up safe-house enclosure for crocs

April 26, 2012

A second saltwater crocodile made news last Thursday when it was captured at sea and brought ashore in Matara. The reptile was seen drifting in the shallow waters of the sea and fighting the waves.

The Matara Disaster Management Centre captured the crocodile.Wildlife Officer R. Gurusinghe, of the Kalamatiya Range Office, arrived at the scene and confirmed the crocodile appeared to be sick. The reptile was brought ashore and later released in the Yala National Park. According to the Kalamatiya wildlife office, the crocodile was 14 feet long.

Animal experts say most crocodile attacks are preventable, and it is only a few rogue animals that attack humans. Attacks by crocs average less than five a year. In contrast, elephant attacks account for an average 50 human deaths a year, and there is an even higher death toll from snakebite. Dogs were responsible for 43 people dying from rabies last year.

Dozens join in rescue operation to save croc that was in difficulty in the seas off Matara.

The dengue mosquito killed over 100 persons in the same period, but crocodile attacks capture the attention of the public due to their fear of reptiles.

Crocodiles are an important link in healthy ecosystems. Crocodile expert Dr. Anslem de Silva told the Sunday Times that the Nilwala River is one of the last refuges of the saltwater crocodile. Killer crocs should be confined in a designated crocodile enclosure that has been proposed in Muthurajawela and Kirala Kele in Maytara, he says.

Dr. de Silva, who is vice-chairman of the Crocodile Experts for Asia of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), says that introducing saltwater crocodiles found in other areas to Yala can cause an imbalance in the ecosystem. Yala is also home to the freshwater or mugger crocodile, the other crocodile species in Sri Lanka.

The much bigger saltwater crocodiles could kill the smaller mugger crocodile in the fight for food and space, Dr. de Silva said. Like the elephant, the crocodile has homing instincts. Relocated crocodiles are known to make their way back to their home grounds, crawling distances of up to hundreds of kilometres.

The proposed enclosure for killer crocs would be a better solution, Dr. de Silva. said. In India, there is a facility for crocodiles that has become a world-famous tourist attraction. The Sunday Times spoke to Romulus Whitaker, founder of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Centre for Herpetology. The MCBT is a reptile zoo and herpetology research station, south of Chennai, in Tamil Nadu.

Mr. Whitaker confirmed that man-eating crocs were probably best kept in captivity, provided the enclosures were suitable for the animal.

The Madras Crocodile Bank has been rearing and breeding thousands of crocs of 18 different species for the past 37 years. If Sri Lanka is to set up a captive croc facility, it should send a team of responsible officers to visit the Madras Crocodile Bank and they will be happy to assist in providing training in handling crocs in captivity, he said.

Published on SundayTimes 

Matara croc captured by Wildlife officers

April 15, 2012

After several days of waiting the wildlife officers captured the crocodile from Nilwala river at Malimbada. The croc is 11 ft long and captured closer to the place a school girl was killed by a killer croc.

The wildlife officers believes the crocodile could be the same that had attacked the girl, but also on the look for other crocodiles that may inhabit waters in the area. A team of wildlife officers led by Dr.Taraka Prasad continue the operation in looking for any other
killer crocs in the river.

A croc comes to town

March 12, 2012

(A croc has been spotted in sea around Dehiwala/wellawatte which could be the crocodile recorded in Wellawatte canal since 2007. This croc has appeared 3 months again in same spot, so this adds up the possibilities that sea going croc could be the same fellow. So this article article written on 30.12.2012 and published as the leading feature story of the SundayTimes is republished here at Window2Nature for your reference.

~ If you happen to see ‘Bertram’ the crocodile strolling along the Wellawatte canal bank, do not attempt to feed it or harm it and it will not harm you, say wildlife experts

By Malaka Rodrigo, Pic by Mike Anthonisz

Where does one expect to find a crocodile basking in the sun or slowly gliding into the water? Many would assume it will be some place down south like Bundala or in the marshes of Negombo. But there is news for those living in Colombo, for a crocodile has been sighted close to the canal in Wellawatte. While experts assured people that there was nothing to fear they also urged them not to feed it or harm it as it goes about its routine of catching prey, eating and sleeping.

“It is a Salt-water Crocodile (Gata kimbula),” confirms Dr. Anslem de Silva, a renowned herpetologist and member of the IUCN’s Crocodile Study Group, explaining that fewer than 300 Salt-water Crocodiles are surviving in natural environments in Sri Lanka. These crocodiles are also heavily threatened and it is surprising to see a healthy animal in a polluted waterway like the Wellawatte canal, he said, stressing that crocodiles are an important link in the eco-system as they clean up the waterways by feeding on sick fish or scavenging on rotten carcasses.

Like elephants, only one or two crocodiles are “notorious”. Fish is their main diet and humans are not among their natural prey, he reassured. When contacted, Dr. Tharaka Prasad of the Department of Wildlife Conservation said that a decision on the capture and relocation of a crocodile would be taken only after evaluating the potential danger not only to the people but also to the animal. They will observe the crocodile at Wellawatte before any decision is taken.

“In many places crocodiles live in harmony with people and are not aggressive. But if the need arises, we use several methods to capture troublesome crocs. Baiting and setting up cages to capture them are some methods. Nets are used if the reptile can be cornered easily. We never set nets in water to trap a crocodile in the night, as a delay in taking it out will result in the entangled crocodile drowning,” said Dr. Prasad who is Acting Deputy Director, Wildlife Health Management.

Once captured, they are released to sanctuaries or national parks depending on the crocodile population already living there. It is a tedious, time consuming and dangerous job, he explained, emphasizing that it is extremely dangerous to feed crocodiles. “Feeding the crocodile in Wellawatte should be stopped immediately,” he urged. Down the years from the colonial era, there has been evidence that crocodiles have lived in the canals built by the Dutch. The Kayman Gate in Pettah (Kaiman Dorakada in Sinhala) means ‘Crocodile Gate’, with Kayman being the corrupt form of the Caribbean word for crocodile, and had been in use among the Dutch in the East.

Crocodiles may have been introduced into the moats around the forts to protect the gates, The Sunday Times learns and the crocodile in Wellawatte may very well be a descendant of one of them. An atlas drawn in the 12th century, which Dr. de Silva saw in a Cathedral in England had, interestingly, indicated two crocodiles on Sri Lanka.

There are two species of crocodiles living in Sri Lanka — the Salt-water or Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) which prefers brackish water and the Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) known in Sinhala as Hala Kimbula, estimated to number around 1200 which lives in fresh water habitats. Bolgoda, Bentota, Negombo, Muthurajawela, Trincomalee and Matara are some of the hideouts of the ‘Saltie’ while water bodies across the country are home to the Mugger.

Crocodile attacks

The Salt-water Crocodile is deemed responsible for most attacks as it grows larger than its cousin, usually up to about 6m and the worst battles between crocs and humans occur along the Nilwala river in Matara. It is believed that butcheries in some parts of Matara used to dump cattle carcasses into the river, which made crocodiles acquire a taste for such flesh resulting in them hunting not only cattle but also humans.

The common theory, however, is that some aging crocodiles are suspects in such attacks as they are slower and find it difficult to hunt for fish and other natural prey. Another school of thought is that the fish population in the river is also diminishing compelling crocodiles to seek alternative food.

Killing a crocodile, having their skins or teeth in one’s possession or raising crocodiles in captivity is prohibited, under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. However, killing of crocodiles due to fear or to take their meat or skin takes place, while natural threats to these creatures come in the form of habitat loss and fragmentation.

The Salt-water Crocodile builds its nest using flag-plants (ketala) and loss of nesting material disturbs the breeding cycle. The nests are also often destroyed by fishermen, while in some waterways, an imbalance in the water monitor population poses a threat to crocodiles, as they destroy crocodile eggs and feed on the young.

A croc in the fishing net

The croc which got entangled in a fishing net

The possibility that the Wellawatte canal may be a hideout for crocs came to light some years ago. In 1999, some fishermen from Moratuwa found a 12ft crocodile entangled in their net, which even amazed wildlife officials as it was found in the sea. This crocodile had been spotted in the sea near Kollupitiya, Moratuwa and Wellawatte before it got netted accidentally. It is believed that the heavy rain experienced at that time enabled the crocodile to enter the sea. This crocodile was later released at the Bundala National Park.

For human and crocodile to live in harmony, a few precautions will ensure safety from potential attack. In some rivers like the Nilwala, safe areas for bathing have been demarcated using wooden panels. Rivers and waterholes in remote areas are the lifeline of many villages and men, women and children use them for their basic needs.

But a garbage-strewn and polluted waterway like the Wellawatte canal can very well be avoided. It will be best to keep away from the banks to ensure that a man-crocodile conflict does not take place there.

Meet the 7-foot neighbour

By Mike Anthonisz

It’s not some idyllic jungle hideaway in the vastness of a wilderness, but in the heart of the metropolis that Christopher Anthonisz, retired banker and octogenarian, has the dubious pleasure of sharing his neighbourhood with a seven-foot crocodile. Christo’s home borders the Wellawatte canal and this Salt-water Crocodile has been seen lazing away the forenoons on his canal bank walkway. Luckily for Christo, because of his advancing age he has given up his regular visits to the canal bank and has therefore avoided inadvertently stepping on the motionless croc.

The croc was first spotted about two months back in the water outside the fenced off garden of a playschool. The children in the Montessori next door have named it Bertram. Like all pets, Bertram was soon the happy recipient of tasty morsels being thrown to it by the curious children.

There have been reported sightings from as far back as 10–15 years ago of a crocodile down the Wellawatte canal, but such sightings have been few and far between and have for the most part been scoffed at as products of a fertile imagination or the mistaken identity of a large kabaragoya (Water Monitor). The kabaragoya was a frequent sight down the canal, but, come to think of it, I have not seen one for some months now along the stretch where the croc has been spotted.

What brought Bertram out of its hiding is not clear. Whether it was simply wanderlust or whether the recent dredging of the canal had anything to do with it, no one will know. It is possible that the dredging had opened up a hitherto blocked off canal pathway through which the crocodile was able to slip through. As to why it has taken lease of Christo’s canal bank however could be because this is perhaps the only bit of land that shelves down naturally to the water’s edge, without a concrete barrier being erected to hold the landfill in. Perhaps it also finds the salinity of the water just right to its taste – there is about a foot and a half rise in water levels with the changes in tides and there have even been some larger species of fish sometimes swimming up the canal.

The fact remains, however, that the croc is not easily fazed. The first photos of the croc were taken by Dickie Delpechitra while the dredger was doing its work in the same area. Dickie himself has been observing the behaviour of these species of crocodiles for some years now. An avid fisherman, Dickie’s holiday home on the Bolgoda Lake is a frequent haunt of the Anglers’ Club to which he belongs and on many a journey in his boat, Dickie has encountered the crocodiles that inhabit this body of water. On a recent excursion he reports having come across what he estimates to be an extremely large 15-footer –- leaving allowance for fisherman’s tales et al, suffice it to say that it was so large that he was duly impressed with the size of the monster.

Could the Wellawatte specimen be a member of this same family? It is well known that the canal system in Colombo has a network that connects up marshes like Muthurajawela, Diyawanna Oya and reaches as far south as the Bolgoda Lake. All it needs is a young croc with a sense of adventure to decide to set off one day to do a little exploring and see the world.

Read the related article published on 11.03.2012 on SundayTimes 

Crocodile in Dehiwala sea does not spoil fun of two-mile swim

March 12, 2012

Croc in Wellawatte Canal photographed in 2007 December while basking at Canal Bank (c) Mike Anthonisz

Villagers have spotted a crocodile in the sea along the Wellawatte-Dehiwala coastline. The animal has been seen on several occasions, but animal activists say there is no cause for concern – this is no invasion by a swarm of crocs but a case of a lone reptile drifting harmlessly in the water.

Philip Weinman has seen the crocodile on two occasions, in the sea around Dehiwala. The first time was in mid-February, around six in the morning, when he was out at sea in his boat fishing. The second sighting was a week later, in the evening. He tried to take a photograph, but the croc disappeared when the boat approached it. Mr. Weinman estimates the reptile at between 6 and 8 feet in length.

The crocodile photographed in Colombo Dockyard

Canal system in Colombo where crocs get access to sea

Mr. Weinman is a member of the Anglers Club, and deep sea fishing is a pastime. “I have been fishing for more than 25 years, and this was the first time I saw a crocodile in the sea.”

The Dehiwala fishing community has reported several sightings. Late last month, a swimmer entered the Dehiwala sea only to race back to shore on seeing a crocodile in the water. Eyewitnesses agree the crocodile has been a passive, non-aggressive visitor, drifting about peacefully in the sea beyond the line of breaking waves.

Meanwhile, a crocodile was seen over several days in the Colombo Dockyard. The animal was first spotted on February 20. Dockyard employee Rohithe Amarasinghe took photographs and a video. The animal was seen paddling passively around the same spot for three consecutive days. Mr. Amarasinghe, who has worked at the dockyard for many years, said this was the first time he had seen a crocodile in the vicinity.

Animal experts say it is not unusual to see crocodiles in the sea. Most likely, these are salt water crocodiles, known as gata kimbula in Sinhala. Their habitat covers estuaries and lagoons, but they are occasionally found in the sea. The salt water crocodile excretes excess salt from its body. Dr. Anslem de Silva, an authority on crocodiles, says crocodiles would rather avoid than confront humans encountered in the sea.

Dr. de Silva, who is vice-chairman of the Crocodile Specialist Group IUCN/SSC for South Asia and Iran, believes the sea-going crocodile might have come along a canal and ended up on the Colombo shoreline. Colombo has a good canal network system, originally built for transportation during the Dutch occupation. The canals are interlinked and connect different parts of the city and suburbs. The marshes in the western province – Muturajawela and Bolgoda – are among the last hideouts of the salt water crocodile.

A crocodile was spotted in the Wellawatte canal a few years ago. The Sunday Times reported on the crocodile in December 2007 in an article by Mike Anthonisz. Mr. Anthonisz said he saw a crocodile basking in the same spot three months ago. It is possible that the crocodile seen recently off Dehiwala is the same animal, probably disturbed by human activity along the Wellawatte canal or flushed into the sea by heavy rains filling the canals. Crocodiles need time in the sun.

Experts say the presence of a crocodile in the sea around a highly commercialized city suggests urban biodiversity. They hoped the animal would not suffer the fate of the Ragama crocodile, which died after being captured.

Participants in the annual two-mile swim were naturally concerned. The event attracts hundreds of swimmers, who swim from Mt. Lavinia to Wellawatte, a stretch that covers the area where the crocodile has been spotted. The 75th two-mile swim was held last Sunday, March 4 without incident.

Dr. Anslem de Silva said it was unlikely that a crocodile would want to be near a noisy event such as a swimming competition, which involves hundreds of people, as well as boats that ride close to the swimmers. All that activity would scare a crocodile away.

Published on SundayTimes on 11.03.2012 

Offshore Croc has Matara abuzz

January 10, 2011

A local poem ‘Matara gange inna kimbulige patiya’ colloquially refers to crocodiles in Matara’s Nilwala River, but one of them, sighted in the sea off Matara town, surprised onlookers last week. This 10-ft crocodile was spotted on January 6, resting on the rocks near Pigeon Island.

Nilwala River is famous for crocodiles, and it is believed that this one was dragged out to sea by strong river currents, caused by the recent heavy rains. After some time on the rock, the crocodile had jumped into the sea and disappeared.

The croc on the rocks
The croc swims away 
A crowd gatherd to see the unusual sight

The monks at the Uposathagara Maha Viharaya on Pigeon Island, informed the Wildlife officers of the crocodile. Hathara Liyadde Mangala Thera said a crocodile was first sighted offshore near the temple in April, and recalls sighting it about four times before the last sighting. The crowd too was sympathetic of the usually feared creature, thinking salt water would harm him.

A common belief is that the crocodile’s eyes bulge when in sea water, making the crocodile blind, but experts disagree. Vice Chairman- Crocodile Specialists Group, IUCN/SSC South Asia & Iran, Dr. Anslem De Silva assures that crocodiles can tolerate salt water.

“Crocodiles also have organs to excrete excess salt from their body, and this particular one, which should be a saltwater crocodile, could survive in the sea,” suggests the crocodile expert.

Sri Lanka has two species of crocodiles – the Mugger Crocodile (Marsh Crocodile) mainly found in freshwater tanks, and the Saltwater Crocodile (Estuarine Crocodile) which prefers estuaries and lagoon habitats.

Like the name and its usual habitats suggest, the saltwater crocodile has a higher tolerance for sea water, but according to the croc expert, even the Mugger Crocodile can tolerate salt water.

Dr. Anslem recalls that a large saltwater crocodile, believed to have originated from Sri Lanka, was found in seas off Chennai, swimming all the way to India. This was about 20 years ago, and the skeleton of this large crocodile can still be seen in the Madras crocodile bank. Many years ago, a crocodile was also found swimming in the seas off Kollupitiya, and later found entangled in fishing nets in seas off Moratuwa.

Wildlife Ranger- Hambantota, Thusharapala Epage visited Matara with a team to investigate the crocodile sighted offshore. But the crocodile had disappeared at that time, and their efforts to locate the reptile failed. The team had educated the crowd of the situation and to keep in touch with the temple to take necessary action. The Wildlife Ranger also said that another small crocodile found offshore near Dondra lighthouse in Matara, was captured and released into the Udawalawe National Park sometime back.

Matara is one of the worst areas of human-crocodile conflict. Crocodiles kill many people annually and hence crocodiles are hunted down frequently. This conflict has resulted in the reduction in numbers of the saltwater crocodiles in Sri Lanka. Lack of nesting habitats are also one of the reasons for their decline, according to experts.

Pics by (c) Krishan Jeewaka Jayaruk Published on 09.01.2011 on SundayTimes

quite A handful

June 14, 2009

The Dehiwela Zoo was presented with three dwarf crocodiles from Germany last Wednesday.  The Zoo received the baby crocs from the Leipzig Zoo in Germany under the Animal Exchange Program.  The crocs were exchanged for a pair of giant squirrels. The Zoo expects to get down a few more of the species in the near future. (this was published on 14.06.2009 on SundayTimes –