Saturday, March 30, 2013

I love crocs!

OK, so you already knew this, but having been at Madras Croc Bank now for 7 nights, I can honestly say, my love for crocs is doing nothing but growing!

Each day I get to walk around the enclosures and look at 18 of the 23 species still alive today.  Sometimes they're hiding and I don't seem them, sometimes they are all out basking so I see several.

There are always 100's of muggers (Crocodylus palustris) to be seen so no matte what, I get to watch them everyday. There are a couple of muggers of note. One I have seen every day I have been here. She sits where she built her nest and guards it with great maternal responsibility. She doesn't know there are no eggs in her nest though. There are too many muggers here so they cannot allow more to hatch at this point.

The other mugger of note, is a tiny wee thing about 2 years old.  It was probably missed when egg collections were done a couple of seasons ago so the lucky little blighter hatched and has survived to this point.  A year of so back there were 6 apparently.  Now there are probably only 2 left - the other one lives in a pipe and sits there basking with only his head out.  They are at high risk here with such large numbers of adult muggers in the enclosure and also with the nesting water birds living above.  But somehow this little fellow has beaten the odds so far and I see it basking at the end of the day in a spot near some tree roots.  This determined little croc deserves an award for bravery and canniness!

Brave little mugger 
I have fallen in love with the gharials (Gavialis gangeticus).  They are so incredibly unique - there is nothing in the world like them.  They are extremely shy and very wary of humans especially, which is a very good thing for such an endangered species.  There are many reasons this croc hasn't increased in numbers in the wild with al the support it gets, but too complicated to go into here.  Some political, some local communities, some logistical…

Male gharial underwater 
Feeding the gharials in the nursery is a highlight of my week.  I love to go in and throw the little fish to them.  I aim for the side of their snout and if my aim and their preparedness work right, they snap their head sideways and voila! a fish ends up in their teeth.  They manoeuvre the fish so it is head first (so the fins etc don't get stuck in their throat) and down it goes.

The little gharials are even shyer then the bigger ones - they are used to being pushed out when it comes to food especially so it's vital to ensure they get a good feed too.  They take a fish and climb back onto the land and eat it, then climb in again.  Very cute wee things.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Melting moments

I have been in Chennai, southern India (about 45 minutes south of Chennai) for 5 days and I cannot believe how hot it is!  The days are not as humid as the nights oddly.  In a way it is better that way as working in 96% humidity wouldn't be fun.  But then again, trying to sleep in 96% humidity is a challenge in itself.

But to be honest, although I moan about the heat, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now.  I am spending about 6-7 weeks as a volunteer at  Madras Crocodile Bank Trust.  It is an incredible place dedicated to the conservation and survival of reptiles  - especially crocodiles.  Hence me being here!

This morning I got to dig up a nest of eggs laid by a gharial.  I never thought I would have this sort of opportunity, and to be so hands on is just mind blowing!

This afternoon was not quite so glamourous (if collecting eggs could be called glam??).  We cleaned out an enclosure that has 6 turtles in it.  They are 2 different species and both endangered, one critically.  They were surprised to find their water disappearing, and while they could, they hid below in the dirty water.

We scrubbed and scrubbed until all the walls and the floor of the water area was clean.  There was a massive amount of algae growing so it was a big job.  We decided that if we did this every day we would look like muscle builders within a week or two!  This was definitely a melting moment in the afternoon heat!  The best part was getting in the cold shower afterwards and cleaning all the algae off myself!

Yesterday I got to feed a large pair of African slender snouted crocodiles.  They have been taught to come to the tapping of a stick while calling their names stick.  They touch the stick with their snout.  We then rub their nose with the stick and they open their mouth and we throw a fish in.  It's a pretty amazing experience!

Feeding the juveniles in the nursery is also exciting.  We start by sorting fish into sizes (I think there is about 500kg of fish??)  we get tiny fish for the babies and medium fish for the medium crocs and big fish for the big crocs and then the remainder gets thrown into the mugger enclosures and they finish it off!  We wash the fish and take it into the nursery and throw the fish to each gharial just beside their snout so they can grab it.  These guys have serious teeth!  But they are one of the most beautiful crocs in my eyes.