This month, Ashish Bashyal shines the spotlight on a unique, slender-snouted crocodilian.
Critically Endangered gharial
Why are gharials unique?
Gharials are unlike any other crocodiles or alligators, with bulging round eyes on top of their head, a long, comically thin snout with sharp, white teeth protruding at all angles, and they exhibit complex parental behaviours. They are on the Zoological Society of London’s EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) reptiles list and are considered to be the only living species in the entire Gavialidae family, with only one remotely close relative, the false gharial. They are considered to be evolutionary distinct.
Where can they be found?
They were once spread across Nepal, northern India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Now they’re only found in small, fragmented populations in northern India – more than 75 per cent of the global population is in National Chambal Sanctuary – and in Bardia and Chitwan National Parks in Nepal.
Why are they in danger?
Historically, gharials were threatened by widespread hunting and persecution, but current threats are largely due to human expansion and disturbance, including the building of dams, illegal sand extraction and overexploitation of fish populations. Following catastrophic declines across its range, there has been little in the way of good news for the gharial.
Is there hope?
My recent discovery with ZSL that one of only two populations left in Nepal has successfully bred is extremely positive and exciting news. Bardia National Park is somewhat buffered from human disturbance, and there is renewed hope that the area can provide a stronghold for the future of the species.
There is the possibility of reintroducing captive gharials to the National Park. Most of the threats are linked to the need for local communities to exploit their natural environment to survive, so we can invest in people and provide them with alternative means to improve their livelihoods. Megan Shersby
ASHISH BASHYAL is a National Geographic Photo Ark EDGE fellow working to conserve gharials in Nepal.
FIND OUT MORE Gharial facts: discoverwildlife.com/gharials; conservation in Nepal: zsl.org/gharial
Gharial populations have declined by 98 per cent since the 1940s.