The Indian Subcontinent is world-renowned for its rich cultural heritage and biodiversity. The world views India as a paragon of coexistence. Age old traditions and customs survive, wherein animals are worshipped as vehicles of the gods. Forests play a vital role in the rural economy (P.K.Biswas). They are a major source of income and livelihood for people in tribal settlements and villages. Age old customs and traditions survive wherein animals are revered in a similar vein to God. But, that does not protect them from the gluttonous desires of mankind.
Amaravathinagar, the name might remind you of the Amaravati Stupa at Andhra Pradesh. But there is a lesser-known town that goes by the same name in Tirupur district, Tamil Nadu. Located at the foothills of Annamalai Hills, this town is a place of prolific scenic splendour.
Skirted by the Nilgiris, it’s a habitual glimpse watching the clouds descend upon them – an ardent landscape lover’s daydream. The town is well-known for the Amravati Dam and hosts the only Sainik School in the entire state of Tamil Nadu. The Amaravati dam surmounts the Amaravati river– the longest tributary of the Kaveri. A major site in the town that often gets overlooked is the Amaravathi Sagar crocodile farm. Home to mugger crocodiles, this captive breeding centre was established in 1976. It is the largest captive breeding site for crocodiles in South India.
In 1960, muggers were on the verge of extinction due to extensive poaching. Increased demand for leather goods cost them their survival. The goal of this initiative was to protect crocodile eggs from the abetting of poachers. The muggers don’t incubate their eggs. This practice leaves their off springs vulnerable to attacks by predators and poachers. The young crocodiles are reared in captivity. On development, they’re released into swamps, lakes and rivers. Muggers are often spotted in the reservoir of the dam.
As a child, I have fond memories of picnics here. Watching these captivating reptiles wallow around the sump built curiosity and admiration for these intimidating beasts in me. I remember pulling myself up to the farthest railing I could reach, gaping at them as my father narrated tales of muggers and their failed attempts at socializing with humans. As they are unfamiliar with human ways, it never ended well for the latter.
A recent visit, after close to 12 years, revived these long forgotten memories. But, a dire change in what I saw left me quite dejected.
What I remember as a haven for these reptiles was now desolate and reaching out for help. The crocodiles were striding in their enclosure, unkempt and neglected. Some of these enclosures were crammed with very small water tanks. With young crocodiles growing in size, many of them lay there in a cramped space, stacked one upon the other. A place of beautiful memories was now sinking and in need of a lifeboat.
Lack of awareness about the farm’s existence has contributed to its sharp decline. Visitors’ fee is a major source of income and funds for the farms’ maintenance. Insufficient funds and lack of revenue resulted in the negligent care of the muggers due to shortage of caretakers. Consequently, the place cries out to its visitors for a helping hand.
In the wild, very few mugger eggs hatch and make it to adulthood. They face threats at the hands of illegal poachers, predators and human encroachment. Danger surrounds the infant mugger from all sides even before he is born. It is these havens that guarantee their lineage.
Our jungles are not exclusive to the trees and animals they host. Rivers and lakes also play a pivotal role for jungles to thrive. For maintaining an ecological balance in these wetlands, we need the crocodiles. To protect and enhance our rich biodiversity, we need to be inclusive in our approach to wildlife conservation. Equal importance must be given to all spheres of existence in the biosphere.
The objective of this article is to throw light on the much-needed awareness regarding places like the Amaravathi Sagar crocodile farm, a conservation project of one of its kind. In spite of being the largest captive breeding centre for crocodiles in South India, it is not widely known. The crocodile farm averted the extinction of crocodiles in 1976. Forty-one years later, the tides have turned for the farm and the muggers. It is time to return the favour done by the Amaravathi crocodile farm in conserving and sustaining crocodiles.
We must visit such parks and contribute to enhancing the maintenance of our biodiversity.