Rising tide: why the crocodile-like gharial is returning to India's rivers 1 year 3 months ago #46

The bulbous-nosed reptiles were in critical decline until conservationists stepped in.

As the sunlight pierces the fog, a fisherman on a boat floating along the Gandak River in Bihar, India, spots a magnificent reptile basking on a sandbar in the middle of the river. Most people would mistake it for a crocodile but its distinctive snout tipped with a bulbous mass and elongated jaw tell him it is a gharial.

Gharials (Gavialis gangeticus) are often mistaken for crocodiles or alligators. They are the only species in the Gavialidae family: river-dwellers that eat only fish and some crustaceans, and which split from all other crocodilians perhaps more than 65m years ago.

There was a time when gharials were commonly found in the riverine ecosystems of the Indian subcontinent – in Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan. But the population is estimated to have declined from up to 10,000 individuals in 1946 to fewer than 250 in 2006, a drop of 96%–98% within three generations, relegating them to the critically endangered category on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list.

But today, thanks to concerted conservation efforts, there is a glimmer of hope for the gharial, which is now found mainly in India and Nepal.

Those efforts began in the 1970s, when the Indian government initiated a crocodile breeding and management project with the support of the UN’s development programme and Food and Agriculture Organization. The National Chambal Sanctuary was established in 1978 and the following year the first captive-bred gharials were released into the Chambal River, which cuts through ravines and hills in the three states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. By 1992, the gharial population had increased to 1,095 individuals.

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Last edit: Post by Adriaan Buys, PhD.
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