Studying gharials

By Kirtiman Awasthi
Published: Friday 15 August 2008

researchers have started telemetry tests on gharials in the Chambal river to gather information for the species' conservation.

Telemetry, involving radio transmitters and satellites, allows remote measurement and reporting of information. In wildlife this technology is used to study migration pattern of animals, their home range, staging areas and body temperature. Radio telemetry study of gharials (Gavialis gangeticus) is expected to yield information on the pattern of their movement in the Chambal, areas of high gharial density and status of their population near the confluence of the Yamuna and the Chambal where most of the gharial deaths had occurred in December and January.

"The study involves fitting radio transmitters in 30 gharials," said Dhruva Jyoti Basu, gharial conservation coordinator with wwf India, which is overseeing the study. So far only one gharial has been fitted with a radio transmitter; the study has been delayed due to flooding in the Chambal. Telemetry tests will also throw light on the possibility of gharials moving into the Yamuna and getting exposed to toxins," said Basu.

More than 100 gharials had died in the Chambal, part of the National Chambal Sanctuary, in just two months (see 'Reason: Unknown', Down To Earth, February 29, 2008). The Ministry of Environment and Forests set up a crisis management group to study the possible causes of mass deaths and suggest preventive measures. After extensive research and deliberations, researchers concluded that toxins in the Yamuna could be the most likely cause of the unprecedented mortality. It was suggested that Tilapia, an invasive fish, could have carried toxins and gharials might have fed on them. But how the toxin entered the gharials is not known.

"The investigation highlighted fundamental gaps in our understanding of gharial biology. The telemetry test will fill them," said Ravi Singh, chief executive officer of wwf India and chairperson of the Gharial Crisis Management Group set up by the Centre.

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