Almost 500 crocodiles to be relocated to protect tourists at world's tallest statue

James Crisp
Tourists visiting the Statue of Unity

Indian officials have been criticised by environmentalists for relocating almost 500 crocodiles from the foot of the world's tallest statue to allow seaplanes to bring tourists to the new site.

So far about a dozen crocodiles, some up to nine feet long, have been captured after being lured into metal cages with fish. They were removed by pick-up truck to be released elsewhere in the Western state of Gujarat.

Conservationists  criticised the plan to allow a seaplane service to the ‘Statue of Unity’,  a 587 foot high bronze-clad depiction of independence hero Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

Tourists are currently forced to endure a 125 mile bus journey from Gujarat’s capital Ahmedabad to get to the £330 million statue, boasts a viewing platform near Mr Patel’s chest and is more than twice the size of the Statue of Liberty.

Forestry official Anuradha Sahu said the instruction had come from the state government "for safety reasons as the tourist influx has increased".

A mugger crocodile in a captivity breeding centre in Gujarat, India.  Credit:  Victor Suarez/Alamy

Community Science Centre Director Jitendra Gavali told the Times of India the government was breaking wildlife protection rules and putting the animals’ lives at risk.

"Also, the government hasn't thought out where it will release the captured crocodiles safely," she said.

"Have we collectively lost our minds?" said Bittu Sahgal, editor of the wildlife magazine Sanctuary Asia.

The statue, which is nine times the size of the Angel of the North, was inaugurated in October. It was commissioned by Narendra Modi in 2010, now India’s prime minister, when he was chief minister of Gujarat.

Mr Patel, known as the “Iron Man of India”, convinced feuding states to unite after independence in 1947 and was a deputy to India’s prime minister.

Helicopter showers flowers petals on the Statue of Unity during its inauguration Credit: Ajit Solanki/AP

Mr Patel and Mr Modi are both from the region and the prime minister’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party lays claim to the independence hero’s legacy.

Hindu nationalists feel Mr Patel’s role was overshadowed by the Nehru dynasty, which dominated Indian politics.