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THATTA, Aug 3: Pollution, shortage of fresh water and poor maintenance are forcing crocodiles and other reptiles to gradually desert the Haleji Lake, this correspondent learnt here on Tuesday.

The secretary for forest and wildlife, Mehmood Ahmad Khan, said the water level in the lake, spread over 6.58 miles or nearly 1,700 hectares, was 17 feet after dropping more than four feet.

Fresh water has not been released into the lake for over two years. These factors have led to migration of water fowls, and 222 species, including coots, purple moorhens, kingfishers and teals, are nearing extinction.

Local people say they occasionally spot crocodiles near the Hudero Dhand, Keenjhar Canal, Haleji Nali and other trenches, ditches and the hilly terrain of Jhampir in search of prey.

These reptiles are posing a threat to nearby villages. Recently, an 11-year-old girl, Ayesha, was killed in an attack by a crocodile. Baghal Jokhio, Ibrahim Mirbahar, Kaloo Mirbahar, Maman Mirbahar, Jurro Mirbahar, Shakir, Rahimoon and others have been injured by crocodiles in the last couple of months.

Crocodiles have also dragged away 16 goats, two cows, one buffalo and a number of other cattle near the banks of the lake over the past weeks. Local fishermen say that a number of fish species, including Therees, Morakhi, Jarko and Kureri, are disappearing.

Wildlife experts believe that there are hundreds of crocodiles surviving in the lake for over two decades, a few of which have been grown and isolated in its adjacent hatcheries and are fed by wildlife officials.

The game inspector of the wildlife department, Fazal Shah, said the department had gifted 10 crocodiles to a zoo in Karachi. He said Mumtaz Ali Bhutto, former Sindh chief minister, had gifted seven crocodiles to the Haleji Lake.

Wildlife lovers have called for maintenance of maximum water level in the lake and proper protection and environment to reptiles.