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Animals of riverbanks: Marsh Crocodiles

Surrounded by marsh, meadows and forest, Ghodaghodi Lake, Nepal's lowest lowland lake in the western part of the country, has long been known for its rich biodiversity and wildlife. But years of heavy exploitation and poaching in and around the lake have threatened the survival of many important species, including turtles and crocodiles.

Recognizing the threat, WWF and the government of Nepal - through the Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) Programme - initiated a project at the lake to improve the habitat of the marsh mugger crocodile.

"The marsh mugger is not among the most endearing species but they are an important part of wetland biodiversity," said Neera Shrestha Pradhan, WWF Nepal's Freshwater Officer.

"That is why we, together with local communities living near the lake, have built a reinforced sandbank. We hope this will become a suitable nesting site for the crocodiles."

Recently, a local monitoring team found a number of footprints at the site, evidence that the sandbank is already being used by the marsh muggers for basking in the sun, and potentially, for nesting.

Ghodaghodi Lake is one of four Ramsar wetland sites of international importance in Nepal, and is part of the Terai Arc Landscape. Located in the shadow of the Himalayas, the Terai Arc covers 5 million hectares - from Nepal's Bagmati River in the east to India's Yamuna River in the west. It provides critical habitat for greater one-horned rhinoceros, royal Bengal tigers, Asian elephants, 80 other mammal species, 47 reptile and amphibian species, 556 bird species, and more then 2,100 flowering plant species.

As part of the Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) Programme, WWF and its partners are working to restore and reconnect 11 national parks in Nepal and India to create one continuous landscape.

Improving the habitat for the marsh mugger crocodile is just one small part of species conservation and restoring the landscape.

In addition to reinforcing crocodile habitat, WWF has helped a local youth form a community-based anti-poaching operation, the first of its kind in the region, to protect the wetlands and its resources.

"This group is actively involved in preventing poaching and encroachment within and around Lake Ghodaghodi," Pradhan added.

The anti-poaching group has confiscated over 800 fish hooks, three boats and nearly 200 gill nets. Several local poachers have also voluntarily surrendered their spears and even dugout canoes.

The marsh mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) is found throughout the Indian subcontinent and the surrounding countries of Nepal, as well as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iran. Sometimes exceeding 15ft ( 4,6 m) in length, the crocodile, eats fish, other reptiles, and small and large mammals.

The Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty providing the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation of wetlands and their resources. There are presently 152 parties to the convention, with 1,611 wetland sites, totaling 145.2 million hectares, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

Nepal presently has four sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance, with a surface area of 23,488 hectares. They include the Ghodaghodi Lake Area, as well as Beeshazar and Associated Lakes, Jagadishpur Reservoir and Koshi Tappu.

Source: WWF Nepal, 18 Aug 2006


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