The Indian Gharial may be Close to Extinction
The Indian Gharial, one of only two surviving species of the living fossil family Gavialidae with an ancestry dating back to the Late Cretaceous is close to becoming extinct in the wild. This magnificent and graceful Crocodilian, capable of growing to lengths in excess of 6 metres had been under severe pressure in the early 1970s as the growing Indian population competed with these animals for space and fish. Radical steps were taken to protect the nesting areas of this reptile and to preserve stretches of waterway to provide a pristine haven for these long-snouted crocodiles. Numbers had begun to recover but over the last two years the breeding population has declined to such an extent that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) reclassified the species last year as “Critically Endangered” acknowledging that this fish-eating crocodile was on the brink of extinction.
The Gharial, sometimes called the Gavial is now facing a new threat. A large number of dead Gharials have been found in the Chambal river area of India, a stretch of water designated a Gharial preserve. Despite the land’s preservation status, Gharial numbers have been threatened by illegal fishing, the removal of sand for building sites, destroying nesting areas and poaching. Now a mysterious ailment is causing the death of many of these animals and scientists are unsure as to what the cause might be.
Post-mortems carried out on the dead Crocodilians indicate high levels of lead in their bodies, but tests on the fish population (the gharials main food source), do not show high levels of lead in the fish. The Gharials are observed as becoming dull and lifeless with slowed reactions (symptoms of poisoning) and then a few days later their carcases are found bloated and floating in the water. Such has been the mortality that an urgent Indian scheme has been launched to investigate the deaths and to consider ways to protect the remaining Gharials in what was once their only stronghold.