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An ethnic Sheedi man feeds a crocodile during a festival at Manghopir shrine in Karachi. — Photo by AP

KARACHI A few crocodiles, which are normally kept in the Manghopir area, escaped late last night but were later caught and returned to their enclosure, Dawn has learnt.

Over a hundred marsh crocodiles, which are members of a very rare and endangered species and are protected under the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance, 1972, are living in a pond situated near the tomb of Manghopir.

A large number of devotees who visit the tomb of the saint also visit the pond next door to feed the crocodiles. This, combined with the security provided to the crocodiles, means that their numbers have grown over the years.

Yaqoob Qambrani, a resident of the vicinity and a member of the Sheedi community, the majority of which comprises the followers of the saint, said that the opening from which the water coming from Thado Chismo - the cold spring - was fed into the crocodile pond had probably become larger owing to poor upkeep. He said that as the water level in the pond had risen, some crocodiles probably escaped through the opening.

The crocodiles were, however, caught and brought back to the pond. He suggested that extensive repairs were required at the pond, which is visited by thousands of people every year.

He remembered that a few years ago a child had fallen on the dry land in the enclosure near the pond, but he was immediately rescued.

He added that the walls had then been strengthened by people of the area on a 'self-help' basis. He said that it appears that further repairs are now needed to ensure the safety and security of visitors.

Responding to Dawn's queries, Sindh Wildlife department staffer Rasheed Khan said that the marsh crocodiles were an endangered species and were protected under the SWPO, 1972. He said that the natural habitat of the marsh crocodiles was the Nara valley and freshwater lakes in the vicinity.

He said that a few years ago the department had carried out a study of the Manghopir crocodiles, but the project was later dropped. He added that the SWD does not want to 'interfere' in the issue, as the people who visit Manghopir have 'some attachment to the crocodiles.'