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In defense of Mr.Crocodile :   A Letter to the Editor

( The following letter has been included to show how people's fears can be misguided. Ultimately , the letter was not published but a " revised story" was printed)

"Crocodile kills 4-year old in Ponda". This prominently featured story on 29th August , Gomantak Times, is as shocking as it is untrue.

In defense of Mr.Crocodile Your report states that there exists a stone quarry in Korda which is "home" for 25 crocodiles in the monsoons. That on 27 August a 4 -year old boy names Sandesh Karvat was seen playing near the quarry by an eyewitness. That the boy was attacked (read not allegedly or reportedly attacked) by a crocodile which lives in the quarry. That various complaints have been made to the Forest Department about these crocodiles, in vain.

Perhaps you might be interested in the investigations of a team of forest officials who rushed to the spot immediately after your report We spoke to the owner of the farm Rajesh Dessai, his brother Anup Dessai, the investigating police officer, and some workers on the farm.

1. Twenty-five crocodiles do NOT live in the rainwater filled quarry. On the contrary, farm workers, the owner and his brother categorically stated that they had seen only ONE crocodile in the quarry for the last 4 years. However later in the day, this number was hiked to two, for reasons which will become clearer later. After we had left, Neil Alvares of Southern Birdwing and Sunil Korajkar of Green Cross who are members of the Wildlife Rescue Squad reached the spot and met the owner. This time the number of resident crocodiles rose to three !

2. Not only did anyone not see the crocodile attack the child, but also, no one saw him playing near the quarry. In fact, people would have been very surprised to see him playing there, as the only way to the quarry is by crossing a fence of live wires. How did 4 -year old Sandesh Karavat accomplish this? Why was this fact, as also the others, misreported?

3. The autopsy report states that " in view of absence of vital organs at the chest and abdomen it is not possible to give the exact cause of death. However, presence of grimy soil within the nostrils and upper respiratory passages is suggestive of death due to drowning in water". Your report has stated that this same autopsy has proved that the child was attacked by a crocodile. How could your reporter mis-interpret such a statement?

4. No complaints were ever made to the Forest Department about crocodiles posing a hazard in the area. If people really fear these reptiles, why do they go swimming in the Opa river, where more of these allegedly dangerous reptiles abound? Rajesh Dessai himself showed me his favourite swimming spot, not far from the favourite basking spot of 4 crocodiles.

Goan Wildlife 5. We saw the crocodile ! It could not have been more than 1.3 metres in length. This is when Rajesh Dessai scratched his head and said there must be another crocodile in the quarry, perhaps realizing how foolish the 'crocodile attack' story was beginning to look. Also, after having worked for five years with crocodiles, treating injured saurians, trapping and rehabilitating 36 crocodiles, working at the Madras Crocodile Bank, I must admit that there is no way the crocodile which we saw in the quarry would have attacked the child. Numerous children swim in the Cumbarjua, where 3 metre mugger crocodiles live and we have yet to get a 'man-eating' incident. The Opa crocodiles are also muggers, Crocodylus palustris. This species is not a 'man-eater' and is actually a very shy reptile.

What happened at Ponda narrows down to three possibilities.

a. The 1.3 metre crocodile saw the child playing near the steep quarry, attacked him and ate him up. To do this would have been a feat for either party. The crocodile would have had to climb out of the steep quarry, or the child would have had to descend into a rather scary looking quarry -- for adequate reasons.

b. The child was playing near the quarry, slipped and fell 4 metres into the quarry and drowned. The crocodile ate parts of him much later.

c. The child tried to cross the live-wire fence and was electrocuted; the rest is a cover-up. While we were told that the child would have found it difficult to get to the quarry because of the live wires, the wildlife rescue squad were told that the battery power was 'not operative' for the last 2 months. An inconsistency worth a mention.

Whatever the cause of death, it is highly unrealistic attributing it to the 1.3 metre crocodile. I wish to bring to your notice that your reporter has jumped the gun and put the blame on the crocodile, when even the police and post-mortem examination has not done so. How could your reporter ignore such glaring inconsistencies? You owe an apology to the crocodile, especially in an era when man is being increasingly pitted against mammon.

Harvey D'Souza
Honorary Wildlife Warden


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