By far, the Sundarbans is known across the world as the home to the ferocious Royal Bengal Tiger. For informed tourists, however, a Sundarbans tour is not just about spotting the striped predator. The mangroves of the place have more on offer.
For example, if tigers rule the land in the Sundarbans, crocodiles are the king of the water all around. You can miss a tiger, but spotting a crocodile — a Schedule-I species under Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 — is almost certain in the Sundarbans, if not in the wild then definitely at the Bhagabatpur crocodile project centre, the only such facility in West Bengal.
It all began in 1970s when crocodile population started declining at a fast pace. The central government, in collaboration with the state governments, embarked on a mission to crocodile conservation programme. The idea was to establish rehabilitation centres in suitable habitats and boost reproductive output.
The centre at Bhagabatpur got off to a flying start and the crocodile population started increasing gradually. But there was decline in the breeding rate a couple of years back. The egg to hatchling ration dropped to 40%. The authorities then took help from herpetology experts to introduce global practices to stem the rot. The team blamed the rise in global temperature for the sharp decline and took proactive measures. They guided local forest officials on how to maintain the perfect temperature, how to differentiate between fertile and infertile eggs and showed them the proper way of collecting eggs. The results were astounding. Soon, the egg to hatchling ratio jumped to 70%. Several adult crocodiles were released in the wild. Some of them were even tagged to keep a check. The forest officials were satisfied with their movements.
Apart from crocodiles, the Bhagabatpur crodiles centre also conserves batagur baska, an endangered species of turtle. Since these turtles are considered “tasty” and “good for health” by the locals, batagur basta is wildly hunted in the Sundarbans region, pushing the species to the brink of extinction. Conservation of batagur baska has helped to save the endangered species from extinction.