Endangered gharials released

June 28, 2013 | By wildlife@dmin
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Photo not of gharial, but of juvenile mugger crocodile!

By Dr. Jordan Schaul

Last week we received great news from the Forest Department, Uttar Pradesh State (UPFD).  A cluth of critically endangered gharials have hatched under the care of UPFD according to the Department’s Deputy Conservator of Forests Sujoy Banerjee.

The Forest Department is one of our closest allies on many conservation fronts.  The species we rescue and the many native species that we care for and often rehabilitate, including reptile that range throuhout India and elsewhere in South Asia is done with active support of UPFD.

Any success at rearing offspring of an imperiled species deserves recognition, but propagating a critically endangered species warrants special attention.  The gharial, a large fish eating crocile inhabiting riparian habitats, and particularly fast moving rivers now occurs in only part of its original range, relegated to only Nepal and India.  These crocodilians are characterized by their large beak like snouts.  This large reptile has likely been extirpated elsewhere in the Subcontinent.

According to the Deputy, “This year, 55 gharial nests have been protected, 42 nests are in Bah Range in Agra district while the remaining 13 are in Etawah Range in Etawah district.  These nests are only some of the nests are protected;these are more nests of gharials in the vicinity of these protected nests.  Each nest holds some 50 odd eggs.  So we can expect quite a few individuals to be added to a critically endangered gharial population.

Last I was aware, there were only 200 reproductively active adult gharials in the wild based on census work conducted in its current range countries.

These crocs grow quite large, almost as large as the legendary man-eating salt water crocodiles of Australasia.  Unlike the “salties” the gharial prefers freshwater environments and hence, they rarely encounter each other in the wild.

The salties are native to coastal India inhabiting Indo-Pacific marine waters, including estuaries.  The saltwater (Indo-Pacific) or estuarine crocodiles are much more comfortable on land, which makes sense based on their diet which includes large mammals.  In this regard, the saltwater corcodile is similar to a third species found in the Indian freshwater bodies.  The mugger crocodile as it is called is also more comfortable on land as they prey on terrestrial animals like the salties.

Unlike muggers and salties, the gharial does not threaten the lives of people or livestock, but local fishermen often implicate the fish eating croc, perhaps erroneously in the depletion of fisheries.

Although we don’t currently care for any rescued crocodiles, we do care for any that need medical attention or relocation.  Baiju Raj, our Senior Wildlife Biologist, who also serves on the Crocodile Specialist Group of the IUCN, a renowned network of conservation biologists said, “That if we get crocodiles in they are almost always muggers, as there are so few gharials in th ewild and the salties primarily live on the coasts.”

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