There’s New Hope for the Gharial

These Indian crocodile relatives are returning home thanks to conservationists.

There’s New Hope for the Gharial | These Indian crocodile relatives are returning home thanks to conservationists.

Gharials are reptiles that look a lot like crocodiles or alligators but they have a distinctive snout and an elongated jaw. They are river dwellers living along the river banks of India and eat only fish and crustaceans.

There was a time when they were  plentiful and lived in the river ecosystems of the Indian subcontinent too, according to The Guardian but that was years ago. Now, they are beginning to make a comeback.

The population declined from an estimated 10,000 in 1946 to fewer than 250 in 2006, dropping almost 98 percent and led to reptiles being put on the critically endangered category on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list.

The gharial population declined due to increased fishing in the area – many were caught in fishing lines – and hunting. The reptiles are hunted for their skins, for use in traditional medicine, as well as for trophies. Many were also lost to the decline of their habitat due to sand mining and the use of sluice gates in dams that often washed away nests and eggs.

Conservation efforts began in the 1970s when the Indian government initiated a crocodile breeding and management program that established the National Chambal Sanctuary in 1978. The next year, captive-bred gharials were released into the Chambal River. It was so successful that other rivers,  including the Gandak., were added.

The Gandak River is an excellent habitat for the reptiles because it has sandbanks and wetlands. “One of the exciting parts of the exercise was taking around 30 juvenile and sub-adult zoo-bred and reared gharials from the Patna zoo to the Gandak River for reintroduction,” Professor BC Choudhury, a trustee of the Wildlife Trust India (WTI) told The Guardian. “Radio as well as satellite transmitters were fixed to a few released individuals to track their journey.”

Since 2016, nests are located every year with help from local farmers and fishermen who then help to protect them. “Members of the fishing community were trained to observe gharials and track their nesting behavior,” said Samir Kumar Sinha, head of conservation at the WTI.

A 2018 survey by the WTI recorded more than 160 gharials in the Gandak River in a 320 km section. The organization also found 20 hatchlings that proved how successful the conservation efforts have been according to the organization’s website.

Now, the gharials are being discovered in other parts of India and in parts of Nepal, according to The Guardian. In fact, they were spotted in the Kosi River in India for the first time in 50 years. They are still critically endangered but now there is hope that the species will survive and thrive.

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