Raise-and-release Program Keeping Nepal’s Gharials Alive can be Improved, Study says

Environmental News from India: 

  • A new study has recommended ways to improve the success rate of a program that releases captive-raised gharial crocodiles into the wild in Nepal.
  • The study looked at the growth of gharials released under the program going back 10 years and identified the first two years in the wild as the most critical for the animals’ chances of surviving.
  • It recommended timing the releases with periods when fish are more abundant in rivers, allowing the crocodiles to pack on weight while minimizing their energy expenditure.
  • The study authors also call for addressing threats to the critically endangered species from dams, riverbed mining, and fishing, and for closer cross-border conservation efforts between Nepal and India, where some of the released gharials have ended up.

A spark of good news for the gharial crocodile (Gavialis gangeticus) in Nepal last month shouldn’t obscure the challenges that remain in conserving the critically endangered species, experts say.

On June 15, just two days before World Crocodile Day, 28 gharial hatchlings were spotted in a tributary of Nepal’s Karnali River — the first sign of successful nesting in this waterway in at least 16 years.

Gharials, known for their distinctive slender snouts, were once abundant in the Ganges River and its tributaries (including the Karnali) that flow through the plains of Nepal and India. Today, their range is limited to a handful of rivers, and their survival is threatened by fishing, changes in river flow, and poaching.

Fewer than 200 breeding adults are believed to live in the wild in Nepal.

Since 1978, Nepal has run a program to raise baby crocodiles in captivity, in an effort to boost the gharial population. Program officers work in Chitwan and Bardiya national parks to collect eggs from riverbanks, provide a suitable environment for them to hatch in, and feed and raise the young crocodiles until they’re around 5 years old.

The program has been credited with saving the species from extinction, but it needs to be tweaked to boost the survival rate of the gharials that are eventually released back into the wild, a recent study suggests.

“We found that the first two years in are crucial for gharials released into the wild,” said study co-author Phoebe Griffith, a conservation scientist with the Zoological Society of London. As part of the study, her team measured the length and weight of 26 gharials released in Chitwan six months to 10 years prior to the study period and how they changed over that time.

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Source: Mongabay

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