Con­ser­va­tion re­port

This month, Ashish Bashyal shines the spot­light on a unique, slen­der-snouted crocodil­ian.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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.

What next?

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.

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