As part of our ongoing efforts to raise awareness about our endangered animal friends around the world, we’re publishing a series on different species that need our help.
This week, we’ve chosen The Gharial, one of the most at-risk reptiles on the planet.
The Gharial sounds like a character in a Wes Anderson movie, but in reality, this creature is one of the largest members of the crocodilian family and resembles a giant crocodile. Gharials are like ancient dinosaurs, as they’ve roamed the Earth for over 4,000 years, and while they once roamed all over South Asia, Gharials are now primarily found near India and Nepal, and they can be identified by their long snouts and large, dinosaur-looking bodies. The Gharial is considered to be critically endangered, the classification before extinction.
There are approximately 300-900 Gharials left in the world, with the population slowly increasing as part of worldwide conservation efforts that breed Gharials in captivity before releasing them into the wild. They are the most “aquatic” of any other crocodilian species and prefer swimming in water to walking on land. Gharials are cold-blooded and the only times they leave the water are when they need to sun themselves - similar to us when we take a vacation.
Gharials typically hang out in groups that are led by the strongest male, a few females, and weaker males as well. If you encountered a Gharial on land, you might be surprised by how large these crocs can get, with females growing up to 14 feet and males up to 19 feet. We definitely don’t recommend approaching these meat-eaters, as they’re ferocious and have highly developed survival skills. Since Gharials prefer the water, their primary source of food is fish, frogs, and other small aquatic creatures they can scoop up. They’re polygamous, meaning males have various female mates for reproduction, and the females lay eggs.
Threats to the Species
Humans are the single largest threat to the species, who over time have been hunted for their skin, had their eggs harvested, and been killed by hunters. In the present, hunting is no longer a threat to the Gharials, but man-made dams and water pumps have proven to be detrimental to the Gharial river habitats. Pollution is also a major danger to the Gharial habitat, making rivers in Nepal and India inhabitable for this species. In 2007, over 100 Gharials were found dead in the Chambal River as a result of toxin pollution in the river, and this widespread contamination is common in Gharial habitats.
Reintroduction has been the main strategy in maintaining the Gharial population, meaning Gharials are raised in captivity and then re-introduced to their wild habitat where they live out the rest of their lives. After being placed back into the wild, these Gharials are monitored by scientists to ensure they remain healthy and thriving in their new home. While this monitoring can be effective, it is often hard to maintain, and scientists lose track of where these Gharials end up. Along with reintroduction, Gharials are protected by Indian legislation that was introduced in the 1970s. This legislation prevents them from being hunted and protects their struggling riverside habitats. While these conservation efforts were once touted as the most successful reintroduction story for an endangered species, that momentum has dwindled in recent years, with only 200 reproducing Gharials left overall.
All is not lost for the Gharial population, with many conservation groups aware of the struggles this species faces. The Gharial Conservation Society is a group of scientific and academic minds devoted to increasing Gharial populations and bringing them back to their thriving population size. They focus on reintroduction and education and have a lobbying presence within the Indian government to place these creatures back at the forefront.
There are other organizations you can donate to as well to help the Gharial, including the International Reptile Conservation Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on conserving reptilian habitats around the world.
If you’re interested in making a purchase that makes a difference, check out our Red Gharial passport wallet. A percentage of each purchase with White Rhino goes to nonprofits that help endangered species like the Gharial.
I hope you enjoyed learning about the Gharial!
They are such unique and fascinating creatures and have inspired us in so many ways. Make sure to subscribe for more! and please feel free to like, comment and share this article with others to help spread awareness for these beautiful endangered creatures.