The mugger crocodile, also called marsh crocodile or broad-snouted crocodile, is a species (Crocodylus palustris) native to freshwater habitats from southern Iran and Pakistan to the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka. It has come to the centre of renewed attention in Gujarat, where the Forest Department has started evacuating muggers from two ponds on the Sardar Sarovar Dam premises on the Narmada, to facilitate a seaplane service at the Statue of Unity.
Already extinct in Bhutan and Myanmar, the mugger has been listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1982. In India, it is protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Among the six schedules in the Act, Schedule I and part II of Schedule II provide the highest degrees of protection to listed species, with the most stringent penalties for offenders.
For animals listed in Schedule I, any of kind of population control activity, capture for captivity, or transportation can involve cumbersome processes. A wildlife expert said: “Any activity involving the animal, technically require permits and sanctions from multiple authorities. It is a tedious process that involves a chain of paperwork, and permissions.
This includes even transportation of crocodiles. So its relocation or capture is definitely illegal without permission. However, state governments have the authority to give permissions in some situations where they become a danger for the human population.”
Vadodara, 90 km from the Narmada dam, is the only city in the country where crocodiles live in their natural habitat amidst human population. Crocodiles from the Vishwamitri river, where they number around 300, often enter people’s homes, giving rise to conflict and capture. Most of these crocodiles are thereafter released in the Narmada dam waters, away from human habitats.
Experts say crocodiles were listed under Schedule I not because of the fear of extinction but to prevent their trade. Crocodiles are valued for their skin and flesh. In some cases, they are also worshipped, including in the Narmada. In idols of the Narmada Goddess, a crocodile is her vehicle; there is an idol on the premises of the Narmada Dam. Goddess Khodiyar Maa, who is worshipped by a section of Gujaratis, is also seen riding a crocodile as a symbol of her supremacy over land and water.