First Gharial Hatchlings Spotted in Nearly two Decades in Nepal’s Karnali River

Environmental News from Nepal:

  • Twenty-eight gharial hatchlings have been spotted in a tributary of Nepal’s Karnali River, the first sign of successful nesting in this waterway in at least 16 years.
  • The discovery by villagers living near Bardiya National Park came on June 15, two days before World Crocodile Day, and indicates the critically endangered species is on the road to recovery.
  • Nepal is home to about 200 breeding gharials, and since 1978 has carried out conservation and breeding programs for the species.

Villagers living near Nepal’s Bardiya National Park have discovered the first successful nesting and breeding site of gharial crocodiles in the park in more than 16 years. They spotted a total of 28 hatchlings in the Geruwa River, one of the tributaries of the Karnali River, the longest in Nepal.

The discovery, two days before World Crocodile Day on June 17, indicates the critically endangered species, Gavialis gangeticus, is on the road to recovery.

“We had been spotting a gharial in the river for the last two years,” nature guide Manju Mahatara from Thakurdwara, near the entrance to the national park, told Mongabay. “Until recently, people used to go close to the gharial as it basked in the sun to take photos and it didn’t seem to mind. However, around three to four weeks ago, it showed signs of aggression, leading us to believe that it must have laid eggs.

“We spotted the hatchlings on June 15 when we observed the gharial,” Mahatara added. She said she and her team believe that as a male gharial hadn’t been spotted in the river, the female gharial may have mated downstream in India’s Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, just across the border from Bardiya, and traveled upstream to lay her eggs.

Gharials, with their distinctive slender snouts, once roamed the entire lower reaches of the Ganges River, of which the Karnali is a tributary.

The species is considered critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, with its range limited to India and Nepal. Fewer than 200 breeding adults survive in the wild in Nepal, with the main threats to the species coming from fishing, changes in river flow, and poaching. With the survival rate of newborns in the wild hovering around 1%, the governments of India and Nepal have launched captive-breeding programs in different locations to maximize the number of eggs that survive; the healthy hatchlings are released back into the river systems.

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Source: Mongabay

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