BMC to study crocodiles at Powai Lake

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BMC to study crocodiles at Powai Lake
© Provided by Hindustan Times The BMC’s cycle track component of the Powai lake rejuvenation project, however, has drawn the ire of environmentalists who say they are opposed to the area being developed as a public space for tourists, citing possible harm to the crocodile population. (HT PHOTO)

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), as part of its proposal to build a 10.2km long, circumambulatory cycle track around the periphery of Powai lake, has commissioned a six-month-long study to assess the population of Indian marsh crocodiles, that are known to live in the water body.

This will be the first time that such a study will be undertaken. This has been a long-standing demand of environmentalists. While an official census has never been conducted, the Maharashtra State Angling Association (which is situated on the banks of the lake) has previously pegged their number at between 40-50 adult individuals.

The study, a proposal for which is currently awaiting approval from BMC, will be led by herpetologist Dr Kedar Bhide, who is one of six experts on the BMC-appointed panel to oversee sustainable implementation of the project, which also involves steps to remediate the water body through aeration, management of weeds and other vegetation, stopping sewage ingress and monitoring of dissolved oxygen levels.

“As part of the study, we will do day counts (when natural daylight is available) and eyeshine counts at night. These are accepted methodologies to determine crocodile numbers in a given area and will tell us exactly how many adult crocodiles are inhabiting the lake. While we know they are there, and that there is an indication of breeding, there has been no official study or data collection done so far. We will also study where the crocodiles are basking and nesting, where they take shelter in the water, and what food sources are available to them,” said Bhide to Hindustan Times on Wednesday.

Bhide said he expects the population count and basking survey to begin by the end of the year, while nesting surveys are scheduled to be conducted sometime in 2022, between February and June, which is the nesting season for the Indian marsh crocodile. “Now that the monsoon is over, we are just waiting for the water levels in the lake to recede further before we can start our fieldwork. We will compile our findings in a report which will present mitigation measures that the BMC should adopt during the development of the cycle track. Powai Lake is already a sub-optimal habitat for crocodiles and other wildlife, and part of the project involves restoring the area and implementing better biodiversity management,” said Bhide.

In addition to mitigation measures, the report will also develop a standard operating procedure for conflict management. “Since the cycle track will be used as a public space where humans and crocodiles will be in close proximity to one another, it is important to plan these SOPs. Hypothetically speaking, if a crocodile wanders onto the cycle track, the BMC will need proper instructions on how to respond. For this, we are considering roping in local wildlife rescue teams who are already experienced in dealing with these animals,” said Bhide.

The cycle track component of the Powai lake rejuvenation project, however, has drawn the ire of environmentalists who say they are opposed to the area being developed as a public space for tourists, citing possible harm to the crocodile population. “Why has a project proposal been drawn up without first conducting such a study to understand the impact? Does wildlife become a priority only when it gets in the way of some other development? The forest department and wildlife experts have proposed to conduct such studies in the past but they have not materialised until now. It is needed, but can be done independently without the cycle track,” said Stalin D, director of NGO Vanashakti.

Crocodile populations in Powai Lake are also allegedly in decline. An honorary wildlife warden with the forest department, who has been conducting rescue operations in the city for close to a decade, said, “Sightings of crocodiles in Powai lake were far more frequent around 10-15 years ago. Now a lot of the areas which were available for them, have been encroached, and fish stocks have declined due to pollution and overfishing. Desilting projects have also eroded little islands in the middle of the lake where they would bask.”

P Velrasu, additional municipal commissioner (projects), BMC, confirmed that such a study has been commissioned. “We will approve the budgets and contract soon. As far as completion of the cycle track is concerned, we will wait until the report is done so as to leave the crocodiles’ basking and nesting areas untouched.”

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