Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tale of 2 Tomistomas

Apologies to all for such a long gap, but April and May (so far) has been a very busy period for me. April began with Croc Bank Docent training program for the 2010 batch on 3rd and 4th. A few of the docents couldn’t make it but we are planning a separate training program for them.  This was followed by a TGMP camp from 5th to 9th. That was fun.  It is always fun with Gerry Martin around! I guess changing a few things in every workshop keeps it interesting; keeps it alive.


We had a brief staff meeting on the 10th finalizing almost everything regarding the big upcoming event; Tomistoma transfer from Ahmedabad Zoo! Yep, ‘Godzilla’ was finally coming to Croc Bank. With a big help from Air India, Ahmedabad Zoo and several friends (Prachee and Rishit in particular!), the transfer was a super smooth one. Thanks to all the friends in media, there was great coverage throughout the event in both the cities, Ahmedabad and Chennai. Personally, for me it was a big achievement considering ‘Psycho’ (our male) and ‘Godzilla’ are the only surviving male and female Tomistoma in the country. Also, there was a silent pressure to start conservation breeding of Tomistoma since that is one of our major focuses and there is a need.

Psycho - Tomistoma schlegelii

Tomistoma population in the wild is comparable to Royal Bengal Tigers; under 2400, making them one of the most endangered crocodilians – now extinct in Thailand. But that figure unfortunately doesn't grab a lot of attention. So much depends on the ‘charisma’ factor! Luckily there is an active group of dedicated conservationists working for Tomistoma. Tomistoma Task Force will provide you with more details.

Godzilla’s capture on the morning of 16 April was rather quick. Amazingly she didn’t react much! After experiencing Psycho’s capture to measure and weigh him in early 2009, I had imagined some action with Godzilla. Psycho was snapping, rolling, snapping, pulling the rope, snapping, trying to throw people off his back, snapping… and hence was called ‘Psycho’. He was 11 feet long then and weighed 130 Kilos.

Godzilla was welcomed at Chennai airport by around 25 media people. She was a big star. We quickly loaded her in the truck and she was off to Croc Bank. I stayed with the wooden crate at the back of the truck. The ride was bumpy but lead me to a flashback. Godzilla was one of the first animals that I ever saw! I was a nuisance child forcing my parents (or whoever was baby-sitting) to take me to the zoo almost every day! I was 3 when I saw her first and I remember my parents telling me that I used to spend long time staring in the enclosure. May be I was planning this transfer since then!

Gz in her old enclosure

Considering Ahmedabad my home and Croc Bank my workplace, I was taking Godzilla from my home to my workplace and as per the breeding loan deal, will take back 50% of the babies back to my home. How cool is that!

We reached Croc Bank and I could see at least 32 welcoming hands. Godzilla’s enclosure was all ready. It was only a matter of few minutes and she was let free in her new home. She wasn’t disturbed at all for the rest of the day.

Next day we had an official opening followed by a press conference. Godzilla looked all confused.

Gz in her new enclosure

Everything was different. Huge enclosure with strange substrate and weird looking shade providers. She was experiencing a big vegetated enclosure with soil and leaf litter for the first time in 35 years! We were excited but there were a few doubts. Her age was a big worry. She is 38 already. Will she be able to produce eggs? We hoped for the best.

Introducing her to Psycho is another challenge. It has to be a soft introduction. Both the animals will have to convince us that they are compatible; no love life till then.

They are sharing the same enclosure and the pond within but with a divider keeping them apart. On land and above the water surface on pond, casuarina fencing separates them but allows seeing, hearing and smelling each other. The pond underwater is separated by a wall. The wall has a window with metal bars which allows olfactory senses to work underwater. All thanks to Gerry and Ralf for this idea and it works really great.

Psycho was obviously curious about the intruder. Knowing him, he will kill anything that threatens his territory or will die trying; something not to look forwards to but to be always kept in mind.

Psycho (left) and Gz's (right) first interaction

Fortunately, Psycho was cool with Godzilla. Such a relief! He was in fact showing a lot of interest with no signs of aggression. He would hang out on the same side of the enclosure as she and when she goes underwater, he goes near the underwater window and displays some cool croc communication in forms or short grunts, growls, bubbling, etc. Last week I saw him with his head raised and mouth open. I could see his throat vibrating but no sound! This was probably some sort of subsonic communication. Awesome!

I started from Croc Bank at 03:00 hrs for the airport on the 24th. I was on my way to Goa to attend the 30th International Sea Turtle Symposium. This was the first time it was being organized in India; a huge opportunity for Indian biologists / conservationists to network with the rest of the world. The flight was via Mumbai with a 4 hour stopover. Now what can I do in Mumbai?


This was perfect. I hadn’t met her in 3 years and she was in Mumbai. It was a brief meet but all worth it.

The symposium was quite a different experience for me. I had never seen so many turtle (marine) conservationists in one place. Met some great personalities like Jack Frazier and Peter Pritchard. Rom, who started Sea turtle conservation in India back in early 70’s, was also around.

Stay arrangement was awesome. I was sharing a room with Dr. Patrick Aust, Croc Bank Director, in Taj Vivanta, Panaji. I was in love with luxury, totally.

On the evening of last day, I was alone in my room when Rom, Janaki and Jack Frazier came over. Patrick had gone for a swim in the awesome rooftop pool. Rom was getting ready for the evening party when Janaki first mentioned about the unfortunate croc attack in the Andamans. The victim was really unlucky as this was the first time ever that a Saltie (Crocodylus porosus) was seen on the beaches of Havelock Island! Sad.

I got back on 30th late night – straight to bed, only to wake up to a surprise. Ganga, our senior keeper discovered a nest in Godzilla’s enclosure!

"A nest?"


I really need to check this before I believe it.

Gz's mound nest!

Well, there it was… a mound nest made of raked up fallen leaves, soil, twigs and fallen branches. 2 feet high and around 3 feet wide. She had built a nest! A real freakin’ nest! This was the first time she made one, ever, in all 38 years of her life! That's some real strong instincts. 

This was within 2 weeks of her being at Croc Bank! This is crazy! It is so amazing; how fast they adapt when exposed to a suitable habitat. This was one of the most amazing behaviors I’d ever seen in crocs……until 2 days later, when we found eggs in the nest!

All 12 eggs were perfect in health.

Worried about her productivity? Not any more!

The eggs were obviously infertile since she hasn't mated yet, but I candled each egg carefully with high hopes of reporting parthenogenesis in crocs for the first time. No Damn Luck!



Domenic said...

soo much good news!! congrats soham looks like things are going great!

Sathya Ram said...

congrats a succes story!!!!

Ramjee said...

Wish to see the offspring soon... :)

Anonymous said...

Really awesome story, Soham! Love it! Thanks for sharing. I'm looking forward to baby croc stories soon!

Lisa Warden

Unknown said...

Awesome Soham.. hoping to see T.schlegelii hatchlings soon :)

Steve Myers said...

Great story Soham! Congrats! Thank you for sharing.

Steve Myers

chitra unnithan said...

Amazing! Eagerly looking forward to the babies now! blink...blink...:-)

Unknown said...

Awesome news! It really goes to show your work that you guys are doing at the Croc Bank. Congratulations! Cheers

Three B's said...

Who is Mallika?
and pat on the back soms. fingers crossed for the future!

Mittal said...

Wonderful news..

Unknown said...

So was the barrier removed at some point in the story? If not how did the copulation in fact occur? Have the eggs been candled, are they fertile? But eiether way congrats to mcbt, the proud parents andnof course to you soham. Give proud daddy psycho a hug for me.

Bhaumik said...

Great! Awesome!

waiting for story of babies..!!

Anonymous said...

Great news! Lovely reading about it!

-Vineetha Menon

Warren said...

Awesome Soham