Gharial hatchlings seen in natural habitats after years in Odisha

A fishing ban over a 10 km stretch of the Mahanadi river made their habitat inviolate.

May 23, 2021 10:58 pm | Updated 11:02 pm IST - BHUBANESWAR:

After almost 15 years, gharials mated in the Satkosia gorge and hatchlings were seen surrounding an adult gharial.

After almost 15 years, gharials mated in the Satkosia gorge and hatchlings were seen surrounding an adult gharial.

The sight of an adult Gharial, a common crocodile species, surrounded by 28 hatchlings at the Satkosia gorge in the Mahanadi river, the southernmost limit of the gharials’ home range in India, has brought a smile to the faces of Odisha’s Forest Department officials.

For long, the State Forest Department has been trying to increase the population of gharials in their natural habitat in Odisha. However, years of efforts never yielded the desired result.

Now, after almost 15 years, gharials mated in the Satkosia gorge and hatchlings were seen surrounding an adult gharial.

“We have been regularly releasing crocodiles into the natural waters of Satkosia gorge. But no remarkable improvement in the population of gharials was observed in Satkosia,” said Harsha Bardhan Udgata, Divisional Forest Officer, Mahanadi Wildlife Division.

Mr. Udgata said, “Gharials thrive on small fish. Their prey base was eroding due to over-fishing by local fisherfolk. Moreover, gharials are shy reptiles. We stopped fishermen from entering a 10-km river stretch from Baladamara to Tikarapada from November 2020.”

Gharials, large reptiles which were abundant in the main rivers and tributaries of the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra and Mahanadi-Brahmani river system, are now limited to only 14 widely spaced and restricted localities of India and Nepal.

“The fishing ban made the gharials’ habitat inviolate. It provided an undisturbed territory for mating. Now, the result is everyone to see. We hope it will trigger further increase in the gharial population in the natural habitat,” Mr. Udgata said.

According to the wildlife wing of the State Forest Department, gharials, large reptiles which were abundant in the main rivers and tributaries of the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra and Mahanadi-Brahmani river system, are now limited to only 14 widely spaced and restricted localities of India and Nepal. The Satkosia gorge in the Mahanadi is the southernmost limit of their home range and the last home of gharials.

Odisha is the only State in India having all three species of crocodiles (gharial, mugger and saltwater crocodiles) found in nature. The State Forest Department has begun conservation of these three crocodile species since 1975 by establishing three rearing centres — Tikarpada for gharials in Angul district, Ramatirtha for muggers in Mayurbhanj, and Bhitarkanika for saltwater crocodiles in Kendrapara district. Moreover, a captive breeding centre at Nandankanan for all the three crocodiles is operative since then.

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