New Gharial Hatchlings in Nepal a Hopeful Sign for the Critically Endangered Reptile

Environmental News from India:

  • 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 hatchlings were discovered by villagers living near Bardiya National Park. Since a male gharial hadn’t been spotted, the female gharial may have mated downstream in India’s Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, just across the border from Bardiya, and travelled upstream to lay her eggs.
  • The gharial is critically endangered with its range limited to India and Nepal. With low survival rate of newborns in the wild, the governments of India and Nepal have launched captive-breeding programs in different locations to maximise the number of eggs that survive; the healthy hatchlings are released back into the river systems.

On June 15, after 16 long years, villagers from Nepal’s Bardiya National Park region discovered a successful nesting and breeding site of gharial crocodiles in the park. On the banks of Geruwa River, the villagers spotted a total of 28 hatchlings. Geruwa is a tributary of the Karnali, the longest river 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 to take photos as it basked in the sun 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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