The forest department's decision to relocate 300 crocodiles to make way for a seaplane service for the visitors to the Statue Of University in Gujarat, has drawn sharp reactions from environmentalists and wildlife conservationists.
The reptiles, the largest around three metres, are being lured into metal cages and moved in pickup trucks, much to the dismay of activists.
The number of visitors to the Statue of Unity has been steady. The conservationists are worried that the visits to the world's tallest statue will have an adverse impact on the ecology of the area, and the move to relocate crocodiles from the reservoirs of the Sardar Sarovar Dam is an example.
As tourism grows, the decision to relocate the crocodiles is being seen as a massive blow to the ecology. The conservationists describe the move as an ill-thought and impossible idea.
"It just seems to me to be completely ill-thought of. You go to places like Anchorage or Alaska, there are so many places where float places are in action. You have dolphins whales and seals, as so many large mammals are there and still they use these planes. I am not against the idea of sea planes, but it occurs to me that they will never be able to remove all the crocodiles there. This is more a psychological exercise in domination," Editor of Sanctuary Asia magazine, Bittu Sahgal told NDTV.
The relocation plan has already been set in motion without much thought, conservationists believe. Cages have been set up along the banks of the river to try and trap the crocodiles. Once the crocodile is trapped in the case using a bait, it is taken to the area where it's being relocated in pickup trucks.
"Crocodiles are apex predators. If you remove them from the top of the food chain, the cascading effect of this is going to completely change the waterbodies which they have colonised. They are the cleaners of the water and if you remove that number of apex predators, the water quality could change," Bittu Sahgal added.
The conservationists say both the ecology and the tourists can co-exist without the massive removal and rehabilitation programme.
Local experts and activists also are expressing surprise at the decision. Dr Khanjan Vaishnav, who teaches Zoology at the prestigious Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda told NDTV," This is the Indian fresh water crocodile and they are highly protected under schedule 1 of the wildlife protection act and they are extinct in Myanmar and Bhutan and they are considered endangered due to poaching for trade of their flesh and skin."
Rohit Prajapati, a local activist told NDTV, "This is a schedule 1 species. I don't understand what kind of development and tourism this is where Adivasis were removed, Narmada was damaged, the ecology was damaged and now they are removing crocodiles."
The tourists visiting the area seem to have no problems with the exercise as they feel it's being done to improve safety for visitors. "I think the crocodiles should be relocated because that way both the animals and people will be safe and the animals habitat won't be disturbed," a visitor said.
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