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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chennai Crocodile Bank

During the month of April this year, I happened to be at Chennai (Madras). One day my extended family members evinced interest to visit Mahabalipuram (A World Heritage Site) and wanted me to show them around. I readily accepted for they believed in my  credibility  to be their guide. While proceeding to Mahabalipuram, after travelling 45 kilometres, there is the Madras Crocodile Bank. Since I could not visit this place earlier, I decided  to make a short break thereat. We parked our vehicle at the parking slot and entered the sanctuary after buying our tickets.

There was a time when the crocodile population in India was dwindling. Some feared that they may also become species near  extinction. With a view to protect and conserve crocodiles, alligators and other reptiles this farm was established way back in 1976. Incidentally this is a private initiative and not by the Government. The credit goes to Romulus Whitaker, the famous herpetologist, who was instrumental in its establishment along with few like minded friends.

To begin with some 30 crocodiles were brought here and due to the conservation efforts the population is now around 5000. Perhaps now it is going to be a problem of plenty.  Apart from the Indian species of Crocodiles and Alligators, their cousins from around the world have been brought in. However they seem to enjoy better and spacious surroundings as compared to their Indian counter parts. This centre is claimed to be largest zoo of such reptiles in the whole world.

Incidentally the water bodies as also the whole place stinks and one has to  muster a lot of endurance to withstand. While searching for an answer I found the place has very many big shady trees and thousands of cranes have made them their home. Their droppings are the reasons behind the problem. While visiting this place one needs to wear a cap or cover the head for protection.  

As is well known, India is also a home for venomous snakes. There is a community in Tamilnadu known as “Irulas” who are very skilled in catching venomous snakes. To conserve their art and provide them a kind of livelihood, Mr. Whitaker got them united and formed a Cooperative Society. They have a separate enclosure in the sanctuary where they regularly bring the snakes and and keep them in pots.  They extract the venom which costs anywhere between Rs.1000 to Rs.5000 per gm. Visitors are also shown the process involved.