Biodiversity Fauna Reptiles

Gharial: going critically endangered

Written by Sarrah Aslam

Whenever we think of class reptilian the first thing that pop up in our mind are crocodiles and lizards. Crocodile, a large semi aquatic carnivore, with its rough horny dry skin, short legs, elongated jaws aligned with razor sharp teeth, utilizing submersion and slyness to catch the prey unnoticed, is undoubtedly and superbly equipped to master its habitat. Amalgamate of all these features in one animal creates a terrifying aura.

This reptilian has variety of names i.e. Gharial, gavial, Gavialis genetics etc. Its common name is gharial due to a bulbous nasal structure on male snout which has resemblance to ghara, mud pot. Due to which only this crocodilian specie shows sexual dimorphism.

This olive green colored reptile dwelled in the four rivers of northern subcontinent, Brahmaputra (Bangladesh), Indus (Pakistan), Ganges (Nepal ,India) ,Mahanadi (India). At present its population has declined in these rives, making it highly endangered species. It is extinct in Myanmar Burma, Bhutan and Bangladesh. Fragmented populations are present in Nepal and India.

Most of the time it loves to be in calm and fast flowing deep rivers, coming out only for nesting and basking on sandy banks.

Young individuals prey on insects, vertebrates. Mature animal is perfectly equipped with its long thin snout to prey on larger fish or even mammals. The long snout reduces resistance in water. Interdigitated sharp 106-110 teeth aligned in the extended jaws enables them to tear and hold slippery prey like fish in place.

It’s one of the largest crocodiles with longest snouts compared to other species. (Male length up to 6 – 7 m). Scientists are of the view that a bulbous nasal appendage on the snout helps to attract female, sound resonator or bubbling instrument used during courtship or associated sexual behaviors.

Gavials have very weak legs so they cannot walk in semi upright stance. They slide on   their bellies. In water they are vey swift with a laterally flat tail and padded hind feet giving them tremendous maneuverability.

dcdcMales become mature at the age of 15 -18 years, while females get mature at 8-10 years. Individual male makes a harem in which its females are protected from other males.

Dry season marks the start of nesting of gavials.40-60 eggs are laid in hole dig by the mother. Mother remains close to the nest as pigs, jackals, mongoose attack the nest. Humans also steal eggs for food. After 70- 90 days of natural incubation hatchlings make noises that alarm the mother to dig the hole and let them out. For months the young ones tag along their mother.

Except for humans there is no predator of gavials due to its large size. Humans have exploited their habitat so much that they now are extremely endangered species, primarily for leather or meat. Main causes of this critical situation are:

  1. Pollution of water
  2. Overhunting
  3. Sand mining
  4. Habitat loss by human encroachment
  5. Egg stealing for medicinal purposes
  6. Males hunted due to aphrodisiac properties of snout.

In Pakistan Nara canal, Deh Akro and Indus are its natural habitats. But now gavials are not seen in these areas. Scientists think that they have wiped out from Pakistan. Few members were last seen in 1978, since then there is no sighting of the animal in Pakistan. Environmentalists are trying to locate any member left. They are also trying to adopt the restocking plan like India has started for conservation by importing the animal from India or Nepal.

By 1970 authorities realized serious decline of gavials population in the world. Different protected areas were established in different states of India to reduce poaching losses. Eggs were collected from the wild and were hatched and raised in protection afterwards they were released in the wild. Captive breeding was also conducted. Initially 3000 animals were released in the wild.

Survey in recent past has revealed that gharial is again critically endangered. In 2007 gavial conservation alliances was established with an aim to conserve and protect the declining gavial population from illegal, life threatening activities. It is carrying out research on the remaining animals. Different campaigns are initiated to raise funds and awareness among people specially locals.

Apart from all the problems and reconciliatory measures listed above, there are many other challenges that act as hurdles in conservation of gharial or any other endangered species.

  • Monetary problems
  • Lack of human and scientific resources
  • Unawareness of people
  • Inert attitude of concerned authorities
  • These problems prevent the formulation and execution of long term better conservation planning.

All these problems should be addressed to conserve and protect the beautiful and magnificent creatures. Wildlife diversity needs to be protected as it gives sense of wonder and contentment. All other species are interlinked by one way; wipeout of one species affects many others down the line.  This world is blessed and decorated with the beautiful creatures for humans to watch them, care for them and not to harm them by being selfish and brutal.





About the author

Sarrah Aslam