Crocodiles are large, predatory reptiles belonging to the order Crocodylia. They are ancient creatures with a lineage dating back over 200 million years, making them relatives of dinosaurs. Read here to learn more about them.
Crocodiles are known for their semi-aquatic lifestyle and are found in various freshwater habitats, including rivers, lakes, marshes, and estuaries.
The species vary in size, with some reaching lengths of over 6 meters (20 feet) or more. The saltwater crocodile is the largest living crocodile species.
They have streamlined, elongated bodies with a powerful tail, webbed feet, and a long, tapered snout.
Many croc species have faced threats like habitat loss, hunting for their skins, and human-crocodile conflicts. Conservation efforts, including habitat protection and breeding programs, have been implemented to conserve crocodile populations.
Crocodile species in India
Today, in India, crocodiles are a common sight in uncommon spaces. But contrary to the public perception, crocodiles remain among the most threatened reptiles on the planet.
A first-of-its-kind global assessment of more than 10,000 reptile species revealed that 50 percent of all croc species are at risk of extinction.
The three crocodiles of India, the Saltwater Crocodile, Mugger Crocodile, and Gharial, are listed as Least Concern, Vulnerable, and Critically Endangered respectively on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Estuarine or Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)
IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
- Saltwater crocodiles are found in coastal regions and estuaries across Southeast Asia, Northern Australia, and the Indian subcontinent.
- In India, the Saltwater Croc is primarily found in the mangrove habitats of the Sundarbans in West Bengal, the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary in Odisha, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
- Among the largest living croc species, adult saltwater crocodiles can reach lengths of up to 7 meters (23 feet).
- They are known for their ability to inhabit both saltwater and freshwater habitats and are proficient swimmers.
Mugger or Marsh Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris)
IUCN Red List Status: Vulnerable
- Muggers have a broader distribution, ranging from parts of Iran to the Indian subcontinent.
- Muggers are found in various freshwater habitats, including rivers, lakes, and marshes. They are distributed across different states in India, such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and others.
- Muggers are smaller compared to saltwater crocs, with adult lengths typically ranging from 3 to 4 meters (9.8 to 13.1 feet).
- Muggers are well-adapted to freshwater environments and are known to be more tolerant of different water conditions than saltwater crocs.
- Medium-sized crocodiles (max. length of 4-5m) with the broadest snout of any living Crocodylus species, Mugger Crocodiles are hole-nesting species, with egg-laying taking place during the dry season.
Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus)
IUCN Red List Status: Critically Endangered
- The Gharial derives its name from a bulbous knob-like bump on the snout of breeding males that resembles a ghara, which in Hindi means an earthen pot.
- The bulbous snout makes them the only crocodile species on the planet with a visible difference between males and females.
- Largely piscivorous, their long, slender snout and rows of sharp teeth make them efficient fish catchers.
- Adults are dark olive or brownish olive in color, while the juveniles are greyish brown with five irregular bands on the upper body and nine on the tail.
- Once a common sight within the subcontinent’s riverine ecosystems, local gharial populations have declined by 98 percent since the 1940s, with fewer than 250 adult gharials remaining in the wild in 2006.
- Concerted conservation efforts have since borne fruit, with a recent survey by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) reporting 1,255 gharials in the Chambal River alone.
In response to declining crocodilian populations, in cooperation with the Government of India and State Governments, a crocodile conservation program, the UNDP/FAO Crocodile Breeding and Management Project, was launched in 1975.
- This coupled with other measures, including notification of Bhitarkanika as a wildlife sanctuary, contributed significantly to the revival of the population in the next two decades.
- As the number increased—from just around 96 in 1974 to over 1,000 in 1995-the Forest Department had to stop the breeding program.
- The protection measures put in place, however, continued to supplement the growth of the estuarine crocodiles.
- But now the density of the population of saltwater crocodiles has led to issues of conflict with human settlements near the rivers.
Global distribution of crocodiles
Crocs are found in various regions around the world, primarily in tropical and subtropical habitats.
- Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus): Found in various freshwater habitats across sub-Saharan Africa, including the Nile River and its tributaries.
- African Crocodile (Crocodylus anthropophagus): Native to Central Africa, including the Congo River basin.
- West African Crocodile (Crocodylus suchus): Found in West and Central Africa, inhabiting freshwater and brackish habitats.
- American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus): Found in parts of the Americas, including southern Florida, Mexico, Central America, northern South America, and the Caribbean.
- Orinoco Crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius): Native to the Orinoco River basin in Venezuela and Colombia.
- Morelet’s Crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii): Found in freshwater habitats in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.
- Saltwater Croc (Crocodylus porosus): Distributed across Southeast Asia, Northern Australia, the Indian subcontinent, and parts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
- Siamese Croc (Crocodylus siamensis): Historically found in Southeast Asia, its range has significantly declined, and conservation efforts are ongoing.
- Saltwater Croc (Crocodylus porosus): Found in Northern Australia, particularly in estuaries, mangrove swamps, and coastal habitats.
- Freshwater Croc (Crocodylus johnsoni): Native to northern parts of Australia, inhabiting freshwater rivers and streams.
Alligators are large, aquatic reptiles belonging to the family Alligatoridae, which is part of the order Crocodylia. There are two species of alligators: the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and the Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis).
- American Alligator: Found in the southeastern United States, primarily in states like Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and parts of South Carolina, Texas, and North Carolina.
- Chinese Alligator: Native to eastern China and historically found in the Yangtze River basin. The Chinese alligator is critically endangered, with a very limited and fragmented range.
- Basking: Alligators are ectothermic, and they regulate their body temperature by basking in the sun. They are often seen lying on riverbanks or logs with their mouths open.
- Nocturnal Feeders: While they can be active during the day, alligators are primarily nocturnal feeders, hunting for prey in the evening and at night.
Conservation efforts in India have been crucial in ensuring the survival and protection of these croc species.
Various wildlife sanctuaries, conservation projects, and breeding programs have been implemented to safeguard croc populations and their habitats. The conservation success stories in India highlight the importance of these efforts in maintaining biodiversity and ecological balance.
It’s worth noting that crocodiles are protected under wildlife conservation laws in India, and efforts are ongoing to mitigate human-crocodile conflicts and promote coexistence.
The conservation status of different crocodile species varies, with some facing threats due to habitat loss, hunting, and human-wildlife conflicts. Conservation efforts often involve habitat protection, captive breeding programs, and public awareness initiatives to promote the coexistence of crocodiles and human populations.
-Article by Swathi Satish