Following a surge in the human-crocodile conflict in the Andamans, the island administration has sent a proposal to the central government requesting that crocodiles be delisted from Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972).
The request has been raised in order for the Andaman authorities to control the growing salt water crocodile population in the island and the resultant rise in man-croc conflicts.
“Over the past 15 years we have seen 16 casualties, including tourists who come to visit the island. Apart from this, 12 other incidents of attacks with major and minor injuries were recorded,” Naveen Kumar, Additional Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), tells TNM.
For animals listed in the Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, undertaking any of kind of control of their population or capturing for captivity or transportation is a cumbersome process.
“Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Act does not include only species that are endangered. In fact, when the wildlife act was being written back in the early 1970s, the schedules were made depending on the trade value of the animal rather than their conservation status. This is why a common reptile – the Indian Python – is listed under Schedule 1 as they are highly valued for their skin,” says Ajay Karthik, assistant curator of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust.
Crocodiles, too, were listed under Schedule 1 as they were valued for their skin and flesh, and not because they were going extinct. This branded the animal as a highly valued species, and any activity involving the animal would require permits and sanctions from multiple authorities, making it a tedious process.
“It involves a lot of paperwork, which would hinder the smooth process of transporting or capturing crocodiles. This is why delisting them is an option in order to carry out population control,” Ajay adds.
As of the 2015-16 census, the Andamans is home to 300 odd salt water crocodiles, or salties, the only species out of the three types of crocodiles in the country found in the islands, a number that is growing rapidly, according to Naveen Kumar.
“We have sent a proposal to the Central government to delist crocodiles about 3 months ago. The proposal is awaiting consideration. If it is approved, then we will rope in experts from the Wildlife Institute of India and private organisations such as the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust to draw up a plan,” Naveen adds.
Regarding population control, Nikhil Whitaker, curator of the Madras Croc Bank Trust who had attended a meeting regarding the same in the Andamans, said that plans were being made to carry out the control in the most sensitive manner.
“The Wildlife Act has remained unchanged since the 1970s. And even if the Central government agrees to make an amendment in the act to delist crocodiles, the amendment would be limited to the specific island. We had a meeting to discuss the population control of crocodiles in the island. One of the options is to teach people to cohabitate with crocodiles in order to reduce conflict. The other option is to capture crocodiles from the wild and keep them in captivity to reduce their breeding,” Nikhil says.