The Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), or the gavial or 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.
Sadly, the global population of this impressive animal is perhaps only less than 235 individuals. Loss of riverine habitat, depletion of fish resources and use of fishing nets all threaten the crocodile. Further, the numbers have declined so drastically in the past 70 years that now the Gharial is in IUCN‘s Critically Endangered list.
The Gharial is one of the longest of all living crocodiles. For example, 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. Unfortunately, their distribution is now within 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. They are limited to 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 slowly recovering in tributaries of the Ganges. Those are places such as the Narayani-Rapti river system in Chitwan National Park and the Karnali-Babai river system in Bardia National Park.
In 1977, scientists found four nests in the Girwa River of Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary. Before 2006, they released 909 Gharials there. Consequently, twenty nests existed in 2006, and 16 nesting females resulted from 30 years of re-introductions. Unfortunately, this number is an insufficient achievement. Several researchers have suggested that perhaps carrying capacity is at maximum.
In 1978, experts discovered twelve nests in the Chambal River in the National Chambal Sanctuary. By 2006, nesting had increased to 68 nests. Yet, the recruited mature reproducing females constituted only about 2% of the total number scientists released. Last, the annual monsoon flooding is always likely to flush downstream out of protected areas the newly hatched young.
Todd Sain Sr.