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Water babies of Gandak

| Updated on July 10, 2020 Published on July 09, 2020

On World Crocodile Day, a river in Bihar welcomed more than a hundred gharials, the critically endangered fish-eating reptile

The fish-eating gharial, with a long and narrow snout, is native to the Indian subcontinent. Dwindling numbers, however, have placed the reptile on the IUCN’s Red List of critically endangered species. Wildlife conservationists and environmentalists have the challenging task of devising safe and successful breeding programmes for the animal. According to the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), a nature conservation organisation, the Gandak River in Bihar is one of the few places in India that witnesses gharial breeding.

In 2016, WTI tracked gharial nesting in the Gandak as part of a project with the Bihar government. Three sites on the river were identified as breeding spots and, over the next four years, local fishing and farming communities were trained to monitor and protect nests from predators and river erosion. A female gharial usually lays 30-40 eggs in March and April, almost two months after the mating season in January-February.

In April this year, three nests were shifted from the sandy banks of the Gandak to manually excavated shelters about 40m away. Round-the-clock vigilance ensured safety of the eggs from predators such as dogs, jackals and monitor lizards. Over two months later — on June 14 — 86 of the 94 eggs hatched. The day brought more good news — in the form of 30 hatchlings from a wild nest that was spotted near the artificial nesting site. In another five days, 42 more babies emerged from two more nests in the area, pushing the gharial count in the Gandak up by 158. Until March 2020, the river had about 260 of these animals.

On World Crocodile Day (June 17), the hatchlings were transported to the river under the supervision and care of WTI workers and local volunteers. A mother gharial was lying in wait near the waterline. She came out of the river to receive the babies. It was a proud moment for the onlookers when the mother led the newborns to the water.

Conservation work at the Gandak is far from over, though. Fifty more gharial eggs are now waiting to be hatched. The WTI team recovered the eggs from a site after a fisherman reported it. If things go as planned, the government of Bihar will soon declare a 140-km stretch of the Gandak and its floodplain wetlands a conservation reserve for several species in the river, including the gharial, the Gangetic dolphin (India’s national aquatic animal), turtles and a variety of birds.

Text and photographs by Wildlife Trust of India

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Published on July 09, 2020