- Freshwater crocodiles or muggers have been living close to humans in Gujarat’s Charotar region for decades.
- By understanding the animal and maintaining a respectful distance from it, the people of Charotar have managed to ensure peaceful coexistence with the large predator.
- This is the second film under a short animated series on human-wildlife sharing space as part of the Beyond Protected Areas series.
As the light fades over the village in the winter evening, the residents of Charotar return home after a day’s work. They’re careful with their routes. It’s almost the end of February and they know that their village (including their own backyards) has turned into a safe space for mugger crocodile mothers.
It’s nesting season in Charotar, Gujarat.
When crocodiles and humans live this close to each other, unfortunate clashes are common. But Charotar makes a rare case for co-existence. While there are the stray incidents, some even fatal, the two species – human and crocodile – live largely in an understanding that has sparked global interest. Muggers, or marsh crocodiles, are found in many parts of the country. In Gujarat, a 4000 square km region with numerous wetlands, especially lakes and ponds forms a perfect habitat for these animals.
And the numbers aren’t exactly small. There are around 300 crocodiles in approximately 35 villages here with populations centred around Malataj, Deva, Vaso, Petli, Dabhau, Heranj, Traj Marala, Nagrama, Tranja, Navagam. With both species – human and animal only growing in numbers, coexistence becomes a precarious tightrope.
Anirudhkumar Vasava works with Voluntary Nature Conservation (VNC), a local organisation that is attempting to ensure this tightrope isn’t compromised. Among other things that are mentioned in the video, he credits the vital reason for the current harmony to history. Humans and animals have lived here for generations. They know each other well. The people who live here recognise that the crocodiles are wild, and acknowledge that the village ponds, gaam talaavs and the canals that connect their villages are homes to these creatures. They keep their distance from them and in turn the crocodiles stick to their corners. In fact, according to researcher Brinky Desai, after news of Charotar spread, more villages in the area have attempted to include tolerance and empathy into their encounters with wild animals.
But Vasava and his team are aware that this situation could change anytime. Conflict does not occur overnight; it is a consequence of decades. Records of clashes started in Gujarat as recently as 20 years ago. So far peace has prevailed because there is enough space, food and water for everyone concerned. When that foundation changes, all parameters follow suit. It can also have an opposite effect. Familiarity leads to complacency and there have been reports of people getting too close to crocodiles, even trying to touch them in a show of bravado. Some people endearingly call them chhaniya muggers, translating to dung crocodiles. This comes from the belief that the basking crocodiles, who sit close to cow dung in winters to draw heat from it, are actually feeding on the dung.
To increase awareness in the region, conservation teams work with the forest department, villagers and citizens from around the country. VNC conducts programmes geared toward familiarity and empathy, including the Charotar Crocodile Count, a citizen science initiative called Croc Watch, and local festivals for children around the theme of coexistence and awareness. The aim is to build a foundation strong enough to withstand any changes, and to continue including empathy and perhaps even affection into the narrative, along with tolerance.
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Patel D., Vasava A., Patel K., Mistry V., Patel M. and Vyas R. (2014). Attitudes, Perceptions and Knowledge of the local people regarding crocodile and their conservation in Charotar region, Gujarat, India. The Rufford Foundation.
Vasava A., Patel D., Vyas R., Mistry V. & Patel M. (2015) Crocs of Charotar: Status, distribution and conservation of Mugger crocodiles in Charotar region , Gujarat, India. Voluntary Nature Conservancy, Vallabh Vidyanagar, India.