Archive for the ‘Crocodiles’ Category

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 

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 

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 –