After meeting conservationists in Khulna, Rom drafted a plan to bring mugger crocs back to Bangladesh. The Madras Croc Bank would send 50 fertile mugger eggs to Khan Jahan Ali Mazar, and 40 adult mugger crocs to zoos.
In January 2005, the female mugger croc Dhalapahar was fatally injured in a fight with Khalapahar. By then, the initial offer to send eggs had been vetoed.
Six months later, 40 crocs flew from Chennai to Dhaka, and Khan Jahan Ali Mazar got seven of those reptiles.
After the short consultancy in 2003 to draft a conservation plan, Rom wasn’t invited back to implement it. Everything was quiet until August 2008 when a croc killed a 25-year-old man at the Khan Jahan Ali Mazar pond. Within days, a woman was dragged from the water’s edge into the pond, but she survived.
I asked our contacts in Bangladesh if the salt water crocodile (saltie) was still living in the pond. After making enquiries, a colleague reported the saltie was the culprit. “It hasn’t been removed,” I exclaimed to Rom as I slapped my forehead. By then, the five-foot-croc would have reached 10 feet in length, a dangerous size for an aggressive species to live among people. Back in 2003, Rom had warned the kadem that the saltie was a threat to human life.
But another colleague suggested mugger crocs from India were to blame. He said these weren’t the first attacks. In March 2008, two people were attacked and one was killed. Since that was mugger breeding season, could the victims have blundered into a protective mother croc’s nest site?
There was more bad news. In April, two kadem viciously beat a nesting mugger, blinding her in one eye and severely injuring a leg. Were they teaching it a lesson for attacking humans?
A crocodile farmer said since the female croc stayed close to her nest and refused to obey calls to feed, pilgrims were leaving their offerings with a kadem who lived nearby. This upset other kadem who tried to chase the croc away from her nest by beating her up. By the time we heard of the incident a few months later, the croc’s leg had healed.
Rom and I felt bad; these were our crocs being mistreated. They had known nothing but security at the Croc Bank. There was little we could do without being formally asked. Ideally, one of the conservation plan’s key strategies — conducting awareness programs for the kadem and other residents of the area — should have been done. Local conservationists raised funds to erect sign boards cautioning people of crocodiles. But nobody attempted to remove the saltie despite repeated warnings.
In November 2009, a news report said two men were sentenced to two years in prison for trashing the nesting crocodile.
After a respite, attacks started again. A woman was killed in June 2011 and two people were injured in July. A news report said some kadem had sent a petition to the Deputy Commissioner of the area demanding the removal of mugger crocs from the pond. They claimed the crocs of Indian origin were aggressive.
Another group of kadem filed a counter petition against the removal of crocs and accused some kadem of misappropriating money meant for feeding crocs. These starving crocs were attacking pilgrims, they alleged. Ironically, the news report showed a picture of an obese mugger. After hearing both sides, the district administration decided not to move the crocs. No one mentioned the saltie.
In October that year, the saltie was beaten to death. I couldn’t help thinking: The road to this conservation hell is paved with our good intentions.
Since then, there have been no reports of crocodile attacks, and we can only hope the kadem treat the mugger crocs humanely.
(This is the concluding part of a two-part series.)