Since the 1940s, we have hunted down the crocodiles ruthlessly. Sometimes for their precious hides, sometimes for the eggs, but most of the time, by destroying the forests for collecting resources. Among all the species of crocodiles, the gharials might just have suffered the most. According to IUCN, they are the world’s one of the most endangered crocodile species.
Unlike the gigantuous saltwater crocodiles or the Nile river crocodiles, the gharials are small – reaching a maximum of 16 feet in length and weighing about 500-ish pounds. They even prey on smaller animals, mostly fish. So, technically, gharials are harmless to humans.
Maybe that’s why we butchered them so severely, reducing their population by 98%. Once, there were tens of thousands of gharials living in the jungles of the Indian sub-continent. A Zoological Society London (ZSL) report suggests that only 650 to 900 adult gharials live in wild only in 14 specific locations in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. The authorities of Bhutan, Pakistan, and Myanmar have labeled the species, Gavialis gangeticus, extinct in their countries.
But the recent discovery from ZSL and Biodiversity Conservancy Nepal (BCN) sheds some light on this matter. Some of the researchers from the two organizations have found a pack of adult gharials in Nepal’s Bardia National Park, watching over about 100 hatchings.
The news bears a massive meaning to the future of the species, as well as to the zoologists and wildlife enthusiasts. The gharial hatchlings are rare. They only breed if the habitat seems suitable.
The authorities of Bardia National Park have witnessed this rare incident was in 1982. The scientists felt clueless as the habitat in the park meets all the criteria that should encourage the gharials to mate and breed.
Ashish Bashyal, the co-founder of Gharial Conservation Initiative in Nepal and a conservation scientist, feels exclaimed with the discovery. The scientist has said, “Something that was bugging me was that we had been working there for almost three years, had conducted more than three surveys, but we had never found hatchlings, baby gharials.”
He also adds, “So, they are out there, they have good habitat, there are adult males, adult females. So, on the surface, everything is in place for them to breed and reproduce… but we were not finding any babies.”
Ashish Bashyal and his team conducted surveys in the area in February and found out that the adult gharials were showing signs of mating.
To investigate their initial hunch, they planned another expedition in the deeps of the park in June. But the monsoon was harsh, the Babai river dried out, and the temperature peaked at 104°F. The possibility of a tiger attack was also a possible threat. But the fortune favors the brave, and the team decided to power through all the obstacles. And, the result was fruitful!
You could feel the enthusiasm of Bashyal in the press release, “At around [one foot] in size, they look exactly like miniature versions of adult gharials – so incredibly cute!”
However, there remains a lot to be done. The survival rate of the gharial hatchlings is very shallow. Apart from the threat possible of other predators and harsh weather, we must safeguard them from us, the humans.