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New population of Critically Endangered Gharials found on the Ganges

10/12/2010 10:28:59 world/Asia/Asia july 10/gharial_iasia Small but breeding population found - Our thanks to IRebel & Tanmoy Ghosh

December 2010. After receiving several reports of sightings of Gharial in the Hooghly District on the Ganges, Innovative India Tourism Pvt. Ltd in association with iREBEL, Search, and with support from local government body of Hooghly & Burdwan district carried out an expedition in search of Gharials and Gangetic dolphins in the river Hooghly; with the aim of potentially creating a new Gharial and Dolphin Conservation Reserve.

To their surprise and delight, they recorded some 40 gharial sightings and photographed 2 large females. They also found several small, newly hatched animals and have estimated that this population probably numbers between 150-200.

In light of these dismal prospects, establishing the presence of gharials in areas of their historic range where they have not been officially documented for over 40 years is tantamount to granting the species a possible reprieve from oblivion.


According to the IUCN Red Data List, the gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) is a critically endangered species. Fewer than 200 breeding adults survive in the wild, and there are indications this number is declining precipitously. It has been extirpated from most of its historic range, including from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Myanmar. It can now be found only in highly fragmented habitat in India and Nepal. 

Gharial sightings
Over the course of the three-month survey four regions of maximum gharial occurrence were identified. Amongst the sightings were reports of one-foot long babies to 17-foot males, and more than ten islands with potential as optimal nesting and basking grounds for gharials were also identified.

It is now crucial to identify and protect suitable breeding habitat for the newly identified population if they are to have a chance to persist and flourish, so this study necessarily includes an assessment of the extent and quality of potential gharial habitat within the study area. Equally vital is addressing threats to specimens or the viability of its habitat.

There is heavy human traffic from fishing and other boating activities, which is probably the main reason behind the difficulty in spotting gharials during the day. The high level of human activity also creates human/gharial conflict, due to the perception that the gharials might, as with other crocodiles, pose a danger. Extensive fishing is also known to have caused several deaths as gharials have become caught in the nets. Also the destruction of sandbanks for the use in brick factories and industrial pollution are also threats.

Gangetic Dolphins
During the survey we were also looking to document Gangetic dolphins; we counted 36 dolphins in total over the 170 km stretch of river. At six locations in the study area we observed congregations of between four and eleven dolphins.

Special thanks goes to the Honourable Shabhadipati of Hooghly Zilla Parishad, Mr. Asit Patra, without whose support and encouragement in every possible way this project would not have been possible.


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