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Thursday, January 04, 2001

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Killer crocodile abnormal

By G. Anand

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, JAN. 3. The crocodile which attacked and killed a 57-year-old woman at the Neyyar Dam reservoir on Tuesday was exhibiting deviant behaviour not natural to its species, according to Forest Department officials here.

According to Mr. Pradeep Kumar, Wildlife Warden (Thiruvananthapuram Division), the crocodile which attacked Rajamma belonged to the endemic Crocodilus pallistris (mugger) species which preys on fish and small mammals. In their natural habitat, the muggers are shy of humans and rarely display such hostile behaviour. The Parambikulam reservoir, for instance, has hundreds of muggers. But there has been no reported case of any human being attacked, despite the fact that a large number of tribals frequent the lake, he said.

The officials said that out of the more than 100 crocodiles in the Neyyar reservoir, only less than four were exhibiting hostile behaviour against the settlers on the banks. They felt that the crocodile which attacked Rajamma belonged to the lot that was released into the Neyyar dam in 1985 after the endemic crocodile population in the reservoir dwindled following rampant poaching.

The mugger which attacked the woman must have lost fear of humans during its life in the cage prior to being released from the crocodile farm at Neyyar into the reservoir. "The crocodile must have also developed a taste for meat while in the cage," an official said.

The killer mugger is an adult male measuring 10 feet in length and weighing around 200 kgs. "We suspect that the crocodile must have sustained a bullet injury from the several shots that were fired to make it abandon the victim's body," an official said.

Mr. Pradeep said that the killer was familiar to the locals. They have seen it basking in the sun along with a smaller crocodile, possibly its mate, near Kanchimoodu where the attack took place. The locals have a name for the mugger and are blaming it for some other previous attacks. They say there have been instances in which it had attacked live-stock.

Crocodiles have strong territorial instincts and also attack when their nests are threatened. "We are probing whether there was any crocodile nest in the area where Rajamma was attacked," an official said.

Meanwhile, experts from the Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) are conducting a study of crocodile behavior and habitat in Neyyar dam. The study would form the basis of an intervention strategy to prevent such tragic incidents in the future, an official said.

Mr. Pradeep Kumar said the strategy would be to capture and cage the crocodiles exhibiting aggressive behaviour against humans. The department has set up eco-committees with local participation for this purpose. Warning boards would be erected near the spots where crocodiles have attacked humans and bathing ghats would be insulated against crocodile attacks.

Meanwhile, the Forest Minister, Mr. C.K. Nanu, has given Rs. 20,000 as relief to the victim's family.

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