How India's fresh water crocodile managed to bounce back in numbers : Ghariyals of Gandak

Odisha in india released 5 radio tagged ' Ghariyal' in Gandak river which flows from Nepal to Bihar and Odisha is famous for twisted mouth fresh water crocodile called as ' Ghariyal ' which were almost at brink to being extinct , Bihar and Odisha worked hand in hand for years to finally seeing revival of this species in Gandak river .

  • The population of gharials (Gavialis gangeticus), a crocodilian endemic to the Indian subcontinent, has gone up in the Gandak river in Bihar.

  • Three surveys in 2017 and 2018 recorded about 211 gharials of different age-groups present in the river, as compared to merely 15 recorded in 2010.

  • A joint conservation initiative between the Wildlife Trust of India and the Bihar Forest Department released captive bred gharials into the Gandak in 2014.

  • However, the thriving gharials are facing problems due to the Gandak barrage and fishing nets.

Indeed, the population of gharials has witnessed an upward spiral in the Gandak that now houses the second largest population in the country, after the river Chambal (National Chambal Sanctuary) stretch that covers Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, claim those involved in its conservation.

Gharials basking on the bank of Gandak river, Bihar. Historically, gharials were found across the Indian subcontinent. Hunting and loss of habitat led to a 98% decline in population between 1946 and 2006. Photo by Subrat Kumar Behera.

A remarkable increase

Based on three surveys done by Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) between 2017 and 2018, around 211 gharials of different age-groups are present in the river as compared to merely 15 recorded in 2010.

The WTI conducted three continuous surveys in the entire stretch of the Gandak river in 2017-18. In the survey conducted from February 4-11 2017, 119 gharials were sighted in the entire stretch of the river. In 2018, two consecutive surveys (February 9-17 and 21-27) documented 148 and 166 gharials respectively in the same stretch. Around 40 hatchlings have been sighted in 2018 after the survey so experts expect the number to increase this year.

The findings have brought cheer to conservationists as the gharial is a critically endangered species. Endemic to the Indian subcontinent, the gharial is the most aquatic of all extant crocodilians and resides in flowing rivers with deep pools, high sand banks and good fish stocks.

Its distribution range has shrunk significantly and currently it occupies only about two percent of the former range. Old references indicate that the gharial was widespread across the Indian subcontinent: it was common in the Indus river in Pakistan, Gandak river in Nepal (locally known as Narayani), Jumuna river in Uttar Pradesh and Kosi river in Bihar. It was also found in Burma (now Myanmar), Bhutan and Bangladesh.  In India, the gharials are now found mainly in Chambal, Girwa, Ghagra and Gandak river basins.

The population has registered a 98 percent decline between 1946 and 2006; the adult population nosedived, with a 58 percent reduction across its range in just nine years, starting from 1997. The reason for the decline has been attributed to over-hunting for skins and trophies, egg collection for consumption, killing for indigenous medicine and excessive and irreversible loss of the species habitat.

In such a scenario, presence of the second largest population of the critically endangered gharials in the Gandak river becomes important for conservation of the species.

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