In some villages in India’s western state of Gujarat, locals live cheek by jowl with mugger crocodiles, which are considered extremely dangerous. Janaki Lenin visited the area to investigate an unusual coexistence.
“The crocodiles will come out only around 10:00,” the woman advised me as she hung up her laundry on a recent winter morning.
I was not on a wildlife safari. I was in the courtyard of her house in Malataj village, scanning the surface of the pond beyond her front door.
It looked like any other pond. But lurking among the fuchsia blossoms and green pads of water lilies were mugger crocodiles, one of India’s three crocodilian species. And villagers – such as the housewife speaking to me – know the reptiles’ habits from generations of coexisting with them.
In most places, the sight of even a single crocodile would be enough to send locals scurrying in fear. But not in Charotar – a 4,000-sq-km (1,544-sq-mile) area bracketed by the Sabarmati and Mahi rivers in Gujarat.
There are at least 200 resident mugger crocodiles in some 30 villages in Charotar, according to surveys by the Voluntary Nature Conservancy, a local non-profit group. The region also packs around 600 people per sq km.
Every pond in the area sports a sign warning of mugger crocodiles. But these pools are central to the daily life of villagers. So residents ignore the signs and wade in to swim, bathe, do their laundry, wash their cattle and grow water chestnuts.
The crocodiles, meanwhile, drift in the same ponds, gobbling fish and raising their young. They clamber onto the banks, bask in the sun, sleep and crawl through grass along the same paths where cattle graze and people, including children, walk.
Every day, humans and muggers go about their business without disturbing or even worrying about each other.