The huge, deadly looking crocodiles with dagger-like teeth are seen in the wild, right here in Goa in the narrow creek that intrudes into the thick mangrove jungle near the small village of Cumbarjua.
Most crocodiles that live in the Cumbarjua canal spend their days sunbathing on the muddy banks of the canal, watching visitors pass by in their canoes. The canal is a 15 km long stretch of water located about 20 minutes drive away from Panaji. It links the two biggest rivers in Goa - the Zuari and Mandovi.
The Cumbarjua canal is the only place in Goa where crocodiles can actually be seen in the wild. Some stray crocodiles are sometimes also found in places like Chorao, Tivim and Quepem.
On the canal, there is a thriving and vibrant mangrove habitat which serves as spawning ground for fish, prawns, and mollusks. This marine-life-rich ecosystem also sustains a healthy population of birdlife and crocodiles. The population of crocodiles in the Cumbarjua canal is currently estimated to be between 40-50.
Interestingly, the crocodiles found in Goa (Crocodylus palustris) are actually freshwater crocodiles - called 'freshies' - and they have actually adapted themselves to surviving in the saline waters of the Canal. This extremely rare phenomenon does not occur anywhere else on the Indian subcontinent.
Called 'mugger' locally, they are pretty harmless unlike their salt-water cousins who prey on livestock and sometimes humans. Most of the Cumbarjua crocodiles are used to human presence so much so that the local children even swim in the canal with the crocodiles nearby.
There has been no case of human killing by the crocodiles here, in recent living memory. If anybody ventures too close, they just jump into water and move away. In the village of Durbhatwadi on the canal, the crocs are even worshipped on the day of the new moon in January as the guardian spirit of the community.
Being cold-blooded, crocodiles need to spend a lot of time in the sun to keep themselves warm. Hence you can see them sunbathing on the muddy shores of the Cumbarjua canal. The greyish-brown skin of the crocodiles ensures they are extremely well camouflaged on the mud banks.
These fresh-water crocodiles are basically scavengers who also prey on sick fish and birds as well as crabs, dogs, cats, and - the very big ones on buffaloes or deer. They may even eat rocks to act as a ballast and help them stay underwater for up to an hour at a stretch. But they don't eat much and get hungry only once every two weeks or so.
Crocodiles are a hole-nesting species, with the eggs laid in a pit away from the water's edge and guarded by the mother crocodile. Out of the typical clutch of about 30 eggs, only two or three hatchlings are expected to survive, the others becoming snacks for predators like mongoose, rats, ants, birds, and even some humans who consider crocodile eggs a delicacy. A full grown adult can grow up to 4 mt in length. To communicate, they bark like a dog or let out a bellow.
The life span of a crocodile is between 60 to 80 years. During the mating season which lasts from November to February, the crocodiles make a spectacular sight thrashing, jaw-slapping and blowing of water bubbles.
Crocodiles have been hunted worldwide for their skin and in India they are classified along with tigers as highly endangered.
The most wellknown crocodile spotting outfit in Goa is operated by Harvey and Neil Alvares. They arrange boat tours for the visiting tourists.