In response to declining crocodilian populations, in co-operation with the Government of India and State Governments, a crocodile conservation programme, the UNDP/FAO Crocodile Breeding and Management Project, was launched in 1975. This paper summarises progress made up to 1982.
To provide baseline data prior to commencement of the project, in 1974 a survey of the status of the three species of crocodiles present in Indian was made.
Gharial - Gavialis gangeticus - found in rivers of North India, it was considered in danger of extinction due to habitat destruction, incidental catches in fishing nets and poaching.
Estuarine crocodile Crocodylus porosus - considered formerly common along shores and rivers, by 1974 it had become extinct in the States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Small populations persisted in deltaic areas of Orissa, the Sunderbans (West Bengal) and the Andamans.
Mugger Crocodylus palustris - formerly widespread and abundant, by 1974 it was considered very depleted in numbers and rare in most, if not all, of its former range.
Primary project aims were:
i) to boost reproductive output by collection of wild-laid eggs with subsequent incubation and rearing of young until of a size (less vulnerable to predation) suitable for release in the wild;
ii) to locate, establish and manage a series of crocodile rehabilitation centres and sanctuaries in suitable habitats.
Sixteen crocodile rehabilitation centres and 11 crocodile sanctuaries were established. A total of 879 gharials, 190 estuarine crocodiles and 493 mugger were captive-reared and released (all at 3-years of age). Successful breeding of mugger had taken place in 10 centres, of estuarine crocodile in two and gharial in one.
The greatest achievement was the re-establishment of viable gharial breeding populations in Chambal and Satkoshia Gorge sanctuaries.
Soon after project commencement it became apparent that for a successful crocodile conservation programme well-trained staff were needed. Thus a Crocodile Breeding and Management Training Institute was established in Hyderabad in 1980; 46 crocodile station managers were trained.
The author highlights three areas where improvements were required: crocodile sanctuary management and habitat evaluation prior to releases; greater monitoring effort of released animals to assess survival and movements; and a need for further public education about crocodile conservation.