One night in May 2014, a male Tomistoma crocodile at Madras Crocodile Bank Trust grabbed a female by the tail. It was the breeding season and the barricade between the two had been removed. Help arrived within 20 minutes. However, the damage was done. Three months later, the croc’s wounds healed, but she was rendered tailless. The croc, when we see her on a Sunday afternoon, lies still in her enclosure. It’s an odd sight — that of the beautiful creature without her tail — and saddening as well.
But Nikhil Whitaker, the curator, says that the crocodile is managing well without her tail. “She’s a living, breathing, breeding, active animal,” he says. Whitaker says that after the attack, she was administered topical medication and was treated by their veterinarian. “She started feeding again after a few days,” he recalls. He adds that she thermo-regulates, moves between sun and shade, and even manages to swim. “She has started making her nest and actively defends it too,” he says. Whitaker hopes that she has healthy babies within a year or two.
The Croc Bank has an enrichment programme under which the reptiles are fed by experts who get inside the enclosure, as opposed to simply flipping food inside. The female Tomistoma has been quite cooperative, with regular visits by vets.
Things have been smooth between the male and the female after the incident, though. He probably didn’t mean to hurt her. “He perhaps mistook her for prey,” he says. “Maybe she brushed by him and he wanted to show his social dominance.” Whitaker reminds us that crocodiles also have different personalities. Crocodiles without a tail survive in the wild too. Whitaker says that he has seen reptiles with a missing tail in the Andaman Islands.
The female Tomistoma is 2.4 metres long; she measured 2.8 metres before she lost her tail.
Whitaker says that the staff at the Croc Bank treat her like any other of the 1,800 inhabitants. He prefers not to dwell on the fact that she’s missing a tail. They’ve moved on, much like her. And she has quite the name — she’s called Godzilla.