India’s highest altitude mugger population recorded in Odisha’s Similipal

As per International Union for Conservation of Nature, the mugger known as marsh crocodile, is a vulnerable species.

Updated - July 02, 2021 12:22 pm IST

Published - July 02, 2021 11:41 am IST - BHUBANESWAR:

At 822 masl, a mugger (Crocodylus palustris) spotted basking near a pond in front of Upper Barhakamuda Forest Rest House inside Simiipal Tiger Reserve is found at the highest altitude in India.

At 822 masl, a mugger (Crocodylus palustris) spotted basking near a pond in front of Upper Barhakamuda Forest Rest House inside Simiipal Tiger Reserve is found at the highest altitude in India.

The mugger population recorded in a pond inside Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district is the highest altitude habitat for this species in India, say researchers.

A scientific paper published in the Herpetological Bulletin of British Herpetological Society says, “mugger, marsh crocodile, population occurs up to an altitude of 822 metres above sea level (masl) in the STR making it the highest altitude habitat for this species in India.”

The STR has a sustainable population of muggers since the reptile’s reintroduction programme in 1981. As per International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the mugger known as marsh crocodile, is a vulnerable species. In India, it is included in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

The mugger is widespread in the country except its north-eastern States and is known to occupy various habitat types such as rivers up to 3-5 m depth, lakes, marshes, human-constructed ponds, reservoirs, irrigation canals, as well as estuaries and coastal saltwater lagoon.

The paper is authored by Harshvardhan Singh Rathore and Abhijit Das, scientists of Wildlife Institute of India, Bivash Pandav, director of Bombay Natural History Society, and Jagyandatt Pati, an Odisha-based IFS officer who had served as deputy director of the STR.

“At 822 masl, Similipal muggers ( Crocodylus palustris ) spotted in a pond in front of Upper Barhakamuda Forest Rest House is found at the highest altitude for the species in India. This mugger population is probably at the highest elevation in the world for which further study is required,” said Mr. Pati.

As per the paper, muggers are distributed across six countries, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

In India, the mugger has been reported at altitudes up to 420 masl in Corbett Tiger Reserve which was listed as its highest altitude by IUCN, but was also present in the lower hill streams up to 700 masl, the paper says.

In Nepal, most records are from below 200 masl, while in Sri Lanka, it has been recorded at 450 masl.

Highly adaptable

The mugger, which is highly adaptable and has been found to co-exist with humans in urban landscapes, is widespread in India except its north-eastern States and it is known to occupy various habitat types such as rivers up to 3-5 m depth, lakes, marshes, human-constructed ponds, reservoirs, irrigation canals, as well as estuaries and coastal saltwater lagoons, it says.

The STR, a part of the Deccan Peninsula Biogeographic zone and Chhotanagpur Biotic province, covers 2750 sq km in the Mayurbhanj district. Muggers were released in West Deo, Budhabalanga and Khairi river systems inside the reserve.

As per 2019-census of marsh crocodile conducted in STR, as many as 82 muggers were detected in rivers. Of these, 70 individuals (85%) were recorded from the West Deo river system due to it being longer than other rivers and greater availability of fish.

“During our survey, 90% of muggers were recorded above an altitude of 750 masl with the lowest record being from 380 masl. However, in 2004, a dead sub-adult mugger was reported at an elevation of 800 m in the Khairi river system of the STR; this was then the highest recorded altitude for a mugger in India,” said Mr. Pati.

“In the current survey we observed an adult and three hatchlings basking near a pond in the vicinity of West Deo River at an altitude of 822 masl, making it the highest altitude habitat for this species in India,” researchers mentioned in the paper.

Odisha is the only State in country having all three species of crocodiles (Gharial, mugger and saltwater crocodile) found in the wild. The State Forest Department has begun conservation of these three crocodile species since 1975 by establishing three rearing centres — Tikarpada for Gharial in Angul district, Ramatirtha for muggers in Mayurbhanj and Bhitarkanika for saltwater crocodile in Kendrapara district. Moreover, a captive breeding centre at Nandankanan for all the three crocodiles is operative since then.

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