The Similipal Tiger Reserve in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district has entered into record books for housing the endangered mugger species at Country’s highest altitude habitat of these reptiles.
“The mugger, marsh crocodile, population occurs up to an altitude of 822 metres above sea level (masl) in the STR making it the highest altitude habitat for this species in India”, according to a research paper published in the Herpetological Bulletin of British Herpetological Society.
An India Forest Service (IFS) officer Jagyandatt Pati, who earlier officiated as the deputy director of the STR, coauthored the scientific paper, said “at 822 masl, mugger species have been sighted at Upper Barhakamuda Forest Rest House in the STR at 822 masl, which is by far the highest altitude habitat of mugger species in the country.
It could be the world’s highest mugger habitat. Thus further research is required in this regard, he added.
Earlier the mugger was reported at altitudes up to 420 masl in Corbett Tiger Reserve which was listed as its highest altitude by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).The muggers are tagged as vulnerable species and are accorded highest degree of protection as these animals figure in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
In Odisha, the mugger is found in river systems of the STR, the Mahanadi river system of the Satkosia Wildlife Sanctuary, the Ghodahada reservoir in Ganjam district besides the Saberi river in Koraput district. As per the latest census conducted of these species in 2019, the water-bodies in Similipal are home to 82 muggers, otherwise called as marsh crocodiles. The STR has a sustainable population of muggers since the reptile’s reintroduction programme in 1981, Pati said.
A mugger reintroduction programme took off in the STR’s river systems after the establishment of the Ramatirtha Captive Breeding Center in 1980.
The Similipal Tiger Reserve, a part of the Deccan Peninsula Biogeographic zone and Chhotanagpur Biotic province, covers 2750 sq km in the Mayurbhanj district. Muggers were released in West Deo, Budhabalanga and Khairi river systems inside the reserve.
In total, we recorded 82 individuals from all the rivers of the STR during the survey. Of these, 70 individuals (85%) were recorded from the West Deo river system.
During our survey, 90% of individuals observed were recorded above an altitude of 750 masl with the lowest record being from 380 masl.
From 1981, the reintroduction programme for muggers in the STR, coupled with the relocation of much of the human population away from the reserve, has successfully resulted in the establishment of a sustainable population of muggers.
Furthermore, this population occurs up to an altitude of 822 masl making it the highest altitude habitat for this species in India. The STR population provides a unique opportunity for research on various facets of mugger ecology.
Incidentally Odisha is the lone State in the country where three species of crocodiles- salt-water, gharial and mugger- are found inhabiting the river systems.
The salt-water crocodile population in Bhitarkanika has increased manifold from 96 in 1975 to 1768 so far. Adequate conservation measures by the state forest department in Bhitarkanika have led to a systematic rise in the number of these reptiles over the years. However dwindling food reserves coupled with human interference has led the gharials to disappear from Satkosia.
Bhitarkanika is said to house 70% of India’s estuarine crocodile or saltwater crocodiles, conservation of which was started way back in 1975.