Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) is one of the most popular getaway spots in Chennai. People looking for a weekend break pursue the road that goes further than Pondicherry. Unknown to many, on the same road lies the largest Crocodile Sanctuary in India, and one of the largest reptilian zoos in the world. Known as the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Centre for Herpetology, the 8.5-acre enclosure is built within a coastal dune forest. Replete with gharials, marsh crocodiles, anacondas, and turtles, the place has an abundant green cover and numerous water bodies, making it ideal for reptiles to thrive. Attractions like holding a baby crocodile, crocodile feeding, aquarium, and snake venom extraction centre are quite popular among visitors. Schemes like ‘Adopt a Reptile’ go a great way in the conservation efforts of these creatures that have been around in some form for millions of years. 

Also read: Top 10 most dangerous snakes in the world

The Need For Such A Sanctuary

Crocodiles at the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Centre for Herpetology in Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu

Crocodile hunting was at its peak in the 1950s mainly due to the reptile skin trade. On the brink of extinction in the early 1970s, the Indian Government finally took a major step by banning crocodile hunting under the Wild Life Protection Act. Noted legendary wildlife conservationist Roumuls Whitaker and his ex-wife (Zai Whitaker) established the Madras Crocodile Sanctuary with the sole aim of safety, conservation, breeding, further multiplication, and rehabilitation of their natural habitat. 

The last part of the plan never worked out. Though banned, crocodiles were still hunted illegally (though in fewer numbers). The burgeoning growth of cities and towns resulted in dwindling forests, encroached river banks, and lost lakes.

Success Story

Crocodile sanctuary, Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu

Home to 17 species of crocodiles currently, the vision of the Whitakers has been realised. Seeing its success, several others from the animal and avian kingdom have found home here—turtles, snakes, lizards, amphibians, and more than 60 species of birds— thanks to its numerous water bodies and thick vegetation. In 2003, its nomenclature was extended to Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Center of Herpetology. Many species which were on the brink of extinction were successfully bred in captivity through close monitoring and thorough research—the most notable being the gharial, the Indian painted roof turtle, and the Batagur turtle. Captive breeding has been one of the mainstays of the program. The Crocodile sanctuary also supplies stock breeds to several zoos in India and abroad.

Why Visit This Crocodile Sanctuary In India?

Crocodile sanctuary in India
  • It is home to 2,000 adult crocodiles which include gharials, Indian mugger crocodiles, African dwarf crocodiles, Siamese crocodiles, Nile crocodiles, and more than 100 other reptiles, including rare specimens like the blue iguanas, green anacondas, albino cobras, and giant Aldabra tortoises from Seychelles.
  • You can watch the beautiful gharial swim gracefully underwater amidst schools of fish and freshwater turtles in the naturalistic aquarium.
  • Book a unique Night Safari to watch the crocodiles in their most active state. These creatures are primarily nocturnal and thus tend to hunt, breed and explore the world after the sun sets. With torches in hand and trained guides to help, it is a one-of-a-kind experience to watch these ferocious beasts. 
  • It’s great for a weekend visit, for interactive guided tours to find out you know interesting and entertaining facts about the residents. 
  • To hold a baby crocodile in your hands. 
  • To watch the very entertaining feeding demonstration that happens on Sundays. 
  • The cost of each ticket adds to the conservation effort of the Crocodile sanctuary. Almost 50 percent of the incurred cost of the place is fulfilled by entrance tickets and guided tours.
  • To get an opportunity to adopt a reptile and take care of its maintenance which includes food and veterinary care.
  • To stroll in a forest-like environment with lovely water bodies and huge trees, making it a perfect place for a day-long retreat.
  • To visit the Crocodile Bank which is just a short walk from the beach— the ideal place to end your trip.

Other Places To Visit In Mahabalipuram

Temple in Mahabalipuram,

Mahabalipuram is a 15-minute-long drive from Crocodile Bank Trust. It is one of the oldest cities in India and is famous for its rock-cut architecture and long coastline. Its Group of Monuments founded by the Pallava dynasty date back to the 7th century AD and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

1. Group Of Monuments

Carved out of singular rocks, the Shore Temple, the Chariot temples, cave sanctuaries, and huge open-air reliefs are among some of the oldest structural stone temples of South India. Unique carvings and extensive sculptural descriptions glorifying Shiva can be found on the temple of Rivage (Shore Temple). Facing the beach, it is the most popular of the group of monuments.

2. Tiger Cave

Not many will talk about this beautiful rock-cut cave with carvings of peculiar tiger faces. Situated in a beautiful park on the shore of Bay of Bengal amidst swaying casuarina trees, the small structure has a mythical animal face called ‘yeli’ resembling a tiger’s face along its periphery. They surround a small pavilion with two guardian lions leading to a weathered sculpture. There are huge leaning stone boulders in the park along with many rocky outcrops.

Rock sculpture in Mahabalipuram
Rock sculpture in Mahabalipuram

3. Sea Shell Museum

It is the largest seashell museum in India and houses more than 40,000 specimens of shells and fossils in various shapes and sizes in a myriad of colour combinations. Awarded the ‘Best Museum’ by Tamil Nadu Tourism in 2018, the place gives a deep and unique insight into the world of conchology. 

4. Lighthouse And Heritage Museum

Not visited by many, the lighthouse offers a panoramic view of the beautiful coastline and the ancient port town. The bird’s eye view of the rocky structures along the beach and town is also a sight to behold. Combine this trip to the lighthouse with a visit to the Lighthouse Heritage Museum which houses old equipment that was a part of the old functional lighthouse. A working model of the original lighthouse is installed on the top floor with the lamp in the centre of the rotational device.

Getting There: The Crocodile Bank is 42 km via the East Coast Road from Chennai city centre. Mahabalipuram is a further 15 km drive from this crocodile sanctuary in India. 

Also read: 22 thrilling weekend road trips from Chennai


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