Wildlife & Biodiversity

World Crocodile Day: Experts flag dip in gharial count in Odisha

Only 14 gharials were spotted at Satkosia gorge in Tikarpada in state’s Angul district in 2019, claimed a former forest official

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Wednesday 17 June 2020
Gharial crocodile at Nandankanan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The number of gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) is alarmingly decreasing in Odisha, flagged experts.

Only 14 gharials were spotted at Satkosia gorge in Tikarpada in Angul district in 2019, according to Sudhakar Kar, herpetologist and former wildlife researcher in Odisha forest department.

In the January 2003, one male and two female gharials were sighted / counted in and outside of the breeding centre in Tikarapada.

According to an assessment of rear and release operation of gharials during December 1987-January 1988, only 25 gharials were found in the entire stretch of the Mahanadi and downstream of Hirakud reservoir over a length of 400 kilometres.

Gharial is considered to be one of the most critically threatened crocodiles: Their habitat is threatened because of human encroachment and disruption of population through fishing activities. They are also genetically weak as compared to salt water crocodiles and muggers, added Kar.

The state forest department in June 2019 released six gharials fitted with radio transmitters from the Nandankanan zoo into the Mahanadi to track their migratory routes in order to save them from extinction. This was carried out wit the help of Gharial Telemetry Project and the Madras Crocodile Bank.

“We fixed radio transmitters to the caudal flanks on the double crest whorls near their junction with single crest whorls. But two satellite transmitter-fitted Gharials died. One gharial moved from Sastakosia to Luna river in Kendrapara district and covered around 150 km. Some locals found its carcass on 6 April 2020,” said Jayant Kumar Das, deputy director, Nandankanan zoo.

In December 2019, another radio transmitter fitted-gharial was killed by some fishermen in the Mahanadi near Athagard, said Das, adding they are tracking the movement of the other four reptiles.

At least 90 gharials live in Nandankanan zoo near Bhubaneswar. 

The construction of dams, barrages, irrigation canals; siltation; changes in river course; sand-mining; riparian agriculture, and domestic and feral livestock have caused stripped gharials of riverine habitat, added Kar.

“The gharial is not as dangerous as other crocodiles due to its long snout. They take 12 years to attend sexual maturity and feed on fish only. Gharials caught accidentally in fishing nets are either hacked to death or have their snout chopped off by fishermen to save the net,” said Kar.

Gharial crocodile project started in Tikarpada in 1975 with the aim to increase the sighting to five crocodiles per kilometre length of water.

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