This time when i visited Alipur Zoo, i again met with these magnificent reptiles called ‘Gharial’. Though i have already seen them at Madras Crocodile Bank a few years back but they don’t fail to amaze me with their uniqueness. They have a typical long and slender snout that no other crocodile have. Moreover they have a swelling present at the top of male’s snout which people relate to ‘ghara’ or earthen pot. That is why it is called grarial. They pose no threat to human still they are endangered and rare in throughout their home range.
Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) is the oldest of the crocodiles. They were found in the river systems of Ganges, Irrawardy, Indus and Brahmaputra within the borders of India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. But currently they have only two viable breeding populations at National Chambal Sanctuary in India and Chitwan National Park in Nepal. Other few fragmented population can be found in a few places but they don’t breed. Several factors are pushing them towards extinction like poaching, egg harvesting etc but none is as destructive as habitat destruction. These crocodiles are typical habitant of rivers. Building dams on rivers dries out the river in downstream side of the dam. As this creates a shortage in fish population, the gharials face starvation as they are totally dependent on fishes. They occasionally take turtles, birds or corpses but fish is their main prey. Even among fishes, gharials prey upon predatory fishes. Where ever the gharial population has decreased in size, local Fishermen have witnessed a decreased in their fish catch as increase in predatory fish decreases the number of edible fishes. In the upstream section of the dam the problem is different. Here water floods a huge area submerging the sand banks and river islands crucial for gharial nesting. Though gharial population have increased in number from 240 in 1974 to approx 2500 now but still there is a possibility of extinction as there are only 20 breeding males are in wild. Males reach maturity at a length of 3m and an age of 13-14yrs. Females reach maturity at an earlier age, at 2.5m length and 8.5yrs of age. They can reach a maximum length of 6.75m and have lived for 29 yrs in captivity.
A captive breeding and rearing program have been initiated. Gharial eggs are hatched in artificial hatcheries and then released back into wild habitats. This is seeing a bit of success but without protecting its habitat it won’t take us long to witness the extinction of another marvellous animal.