The Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), also known as the gavial, and the fish-eating crocodile, is a crocodilian of the family Gavialidae, The Gharial is native to the Indian Subcontinent. Typically, the adult Gharial has a dark olive color tone, while young ones are pale olive, with dark brown spots or cross-bands.
The global population of this impressive animal is estimated at less than 235 individuals. The species is threatened by loss of riverine habitat, depletion of fish resources and use of fishing nets. As the population has declined drastically in the past 70 years, the Gharial is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. The Gharial is one of the longest of all living crocodilians. Adults may measure up to 20.5 ft (6.25 m) in length. With 110 sharp interdigitated teeth in its long thin snout it is well adapted to catching fish, its main diet.
The Gharial once thrived in all the major river systems of the Indian Subcontinent. Their territory spanned the rivers of its northern part from the Indus River in Pakistan across the Gangetic floodplain to the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar. Their distribution is now limited to only 2% of their former range. Today, they are extinct in the Indus River, in the Brahmaputra of Bhutan and Bangladesh, and in the Irrawaddy River.
In India, small populations are present and increasing in the rivers of the National Chambal Sanctuary, Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, Son River Sanctuary and the rainforest biome of Mahanadi in Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary, Odisha. In Nepal, small populations are present and slowly recovering in tributaries of the Ganges, such as the Narayani-Rapti river system in Chitwan National Park and the Karnali-Babai river system in Bardia National Park.
In 1977, four nests were recorded in the Girwa River of Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, where 909 Gharials were released until 2006. Twenty nests were recorded in 2006, so 16 nesting females resulted from 30 years of re-introductions, which is equivalent to 2% of the total pre-2006 releases. This is considered an insufficient achievement by most experts. Several researchers have suggested, perhaps carrying capacity has been reached there.
In 1978, twelve nests were recorded in the Chambal River in the National Chambal Sanctuary. By 2006, nesting had increased by over 500% to 68 nests, but the recruited mature, reproducing females constituted only about 2% of the total number released. The newly hatched young are especially prone to being flushed downstream out of the protected areas during the annual monsoon flooding.
Todd Sain Sr.