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Asian Gardens Animal Fact Sheet
GHARIAL CROCODILE
Gavialis gangeticus

Range:
The rivers and hill streams of the northern Indian subcontinent.

The species is considered to be one of the most critically threatened of all crocodilians, and was alarmingly close to extinction in the 1970’s. A survey conducted in the early 1970’s concluded that only 50 to 60 gharials survived in India and a handful in Nepal, Pakistan and Bangldesh. Today, gharial populations still exist in India and Nepal, and very few in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan.

Fortunately, there has been some recovery, and a reasonable amount of hope lies with the conservation and management programs now in place in India and Nepal. Full protection was granted in the 1970’s in the hope of reducing poaching losses. There are now nine protected areas for this species in India alone. They are linked to both captive breeding and ranching operations where eggs collected from the wild are raised in captivity and then released back into the wild, much like some salmon and sea turtle management. The first were released in 1981. Today, more than 3,000 animals have been released through these programs. But still, the total population, wild and captive, is estimated at less than 1,000 animals.

The major threat at present is habitat loss due to human encroachment, and disruption of populations through fishing and hunting activities. A lack of suitable release sites has also started to become a problem for the management of the gharial. Eggs are collected for medicinal purposes, and males are hunted for the aphrodisiac properties associated with the snout. They may also be snared in fishing nets and killed by fishermen. The decline in gharial populations have been linked to a decline in fish catches, as predatory fish, of no interest to the fishermen, form a major part of the gharial diet.

Males guard a territory in which several females live. The mating period lasts from December to Febraury, and nesting occurs from March to May. Gharials are hole nesters and excavate an egg chamber into the sandy banks above the flood line. Between 28 and 60 eggs are deposited into the hole before it is covered over carefully using the hind feet. The eggs are the largest of any crocodilian species. The females will guard the nest, but the males do not. Up to 94 days later (temperature dependent) the hatchlings emerge, and the females assist the hatchlings to the water as in many other crocodilian species. Protection of the young occurs around the nesting area for some time after hatching.

Habitat: The calmer areas of deep, fast-moving rivers. They are mostly aquatic, but sometimes leave rivers to bask or nest on sandbanks.
Diet: Juveniles primarily eat small fish and a variety of insects, and also sometimes small vertebrate such as frogs. Adults are primarily fish-eaters.
Status: Critically Endangered (IUCN)
Approximate Dimensions of Adult: Weight: On average, between 350 and 400 lbs.
Length: On average, 12 to 15 feet, but males can reach 20 to 30 feet in length.
Lifespan: 40-60 years in the wild.
Reproduction & Offspring:

Females reach sexual maturity around eight to nine feet in length, usually when they are older than seven years of age. The males do not mature until about 13 feet in length, at 15 to 18 years of age.


 

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