39-year-old 'Gori', India's only female albino captive white crocodile, will soon be released into the wild to enable it to adopt to the natural environment and find a mating partner.
"We have made up our mind to set Gori free. But, before its release, its present habitat has been refurbished by expanding its territory. The enclosed pond where Gori lives at present has been connected with natural water bodies on the periphery," Divisional Forest Officer, Rajnagar Mangrove (wildlife) Forest Division, Kedar Kumar Swain said today.
"As its habitat has been given a natural ambience, the reptile now has unhindered movement to nearby water bodies and water-inlets. It is slowly adapting itself to natural environs," he said.
Proposal to set free the reptile had been contemplated in past years. But it was shelved after wildlife experts expressed apprehension that the species in the wild might assault 'Gori', he said.
The decision to set 'Gori' free has been taken by the Bhitarkanika National Park authorities.
"The department has conducted experiment with 'Hyderabadi', another captive crocodile which is roughly of the same age of 'Gori'. It was released to the wild and the crocodile has adapted to the wild environs. It is coming back to the closed enclosure for basking. The crocodiles living in the wild have caused no harm to 'Hyderabadi'. We are optimistic that 'Gori' may also adapt to wild environs once it is released from the pen," Swain said.
The rare reptile was caged in a pen inside the Dangmal Crocodile Research Center in the Bhitarkanika National Park for the past 39 years since its birth in 1975, he said.
Gori is eight-feet-long and has whitish patches over its body. Mating attempts were made at least five times in the past few years. But it has rejected the male partner each time.
"On occasions, the albino species was sighted attacking male partners. Mostly it is docile in nature, while the other captive croc 'Hyderabadi' is often found aggressive," said Swain.
Yashobant Behera, the caretaker of the pen where Gori is caged, said "I feed Gori with 2 kg crabs and a kg of fish daily. I send a message to Gori by beating up the aluminium bucket carrying its food. The reptile swiftly receives the signal and eats up the crab and fish. It has never attacked me though I keep safe distance of at least 8 to 10 feet while giving her food."
"Whenever I am on leave, other forest guards take up the charge of feeding. But Gori's instinctive response towards them is on a lesser scale," said Behera.
"The pool-shaped water body in which 'Gori' is ensconced has been refurbished. The pool has been linked to the natural creeks for its free movement. Work has been done to maintain constant flow of salinised water into the pen from the natural water-inlets from the Bhitarkanika river system," he said.
"The pond has been dug out to greater depth as suggested by experts. The water channels routes were spruced up and cleaned up for uninterrupted flow of saltish water during high tide. We are also ensuring that the captive is not disturbed by tourists," he said.
'Gori', hatched and bred by the department as a part of crocodile conservation programme, was the mascot for the National Youth Festival at Bhubaneswar in 2010.