What is Gharial?

Gharial or gavial is a specific type of Asian crocodile with a distinctive long and thin snout. The gharial, the fish-eating crocodile, belongs to the Gavialidae family. It is one of the world’s longest reptiles. While males are 3-6 metres long, females’ length ranges between 2.6-4.5 metres. Adult males have a pronounced boss at the end of their snout that looks like a ‘ghara,’ (‘earthenware pot’ in Hindi). Hence the name Gharial in English. Because of its long, slender snout and 110 sharp, interlocking teeth, the animal is ideally equipped to hunt fish. Gharial UPSC questions are quite common at the Prelims stage. So, read this article thoroughly.

India is home to a vast array of species that are important from the UPSC Prelims perspective. Aspirants can read about the Species in News at the linked article.

Habitat

Gharials are said to have originated in the northern Indian subcontinent. The fossil gharial bones were discovered in the Pliocene layers of the Shivalik Hills and the Narmada River valley. They dwell in freshwater river systems, congregating near river bends where the water is deep. They’re not well-suited to life on land; so they only leave the water to sunbathe or nest. While the mating season of the adults is the cold season, the egg-laying activity of the females takes place during the spring, whereby they dig nests and lay 20-95 eggs. During their first year, the hatchlings stay and feed in shallow water, but as they grow they go to deeper waters.

Gharial population is dwindling; now, they can be found in only two countries- India, along the Chambal, Girwa, Son Rivers, and Gangetic Delta and Nepal, along the Narayani River.

Gharial Characteristics

Gharials may weigh up to 908 kgs. They maintain their body temperature by warming up in the sun and cooling down in the shade or water.

Gharials, unlike other crocodiles, do not stalk and lunge for food. Their snouts possess sensory cells that sense vibrations in the water. The creatures attack a fish by whirling their heads from side to side and grabbing them in their jaws, lined with over a hundred teeth. While adults eat fish, their offspring eat insects and frogs. Gharials rip apart giant fishes and ingest stones as gastroliths, most likely to facilitate digestion or maintain buoyancy.

To read about the characteristics, habitats and facts about Indian Crocodiles, candidates can refer to the linked article.

Existential Dangers of Gharial Crocodile

The species is classified as ‘severely endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Human actions are the most severe risks it confronts. Due to traditional medicine hunting and significant changes to its watery environments, the gharial population has plummeted by up to 98 per cent since the 1940s.

The gharials are especially vulnerable to entanglement in fishing nets because of their large, toothy rostrum. The entangled gharials are often murdered or have their rostrums hacked off to untangle nets and maybe in punishment for causing damage to nets. Gharial existence is threatened by riverbank farming, which isolates them from the terrestrial component of their habitat, resulting in desertion and migration. Sand removal from riverbanks causes gharial behaviour to be disrupted. It may even drive local communities to abandon the region.

Conservation Status of the Indian Gharial

Concerns over the gharial’s plight have prompted a flurry of conservation activities in recent decades. In the 1970s, the Indian government banned poaching of the gharials. Conservation organisations in India and Nepal initiated rear-and-release programmes, releasing over 6,000 captive-bred gharials into the wild. Unfortunately, due to the lack of efficient monitoring, it is difficult to determine how beneficial these initiatives have been.

You must make these information pieces a part of your UPSC notes for a better score.

Read in detail about the Human-Wildlife Conflict that results in losses in terms of life, property or resources, at the linked article. Also, read about:

Frequently Asked Questions on Gharial

Write a short note on gharial conservation by WWF-India.

Gharial conservation is also a part of the Species Recovery Programme of WWF-India. The organisation began a gharial reintroduction initiative at Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary in UP. About 250 captive-reared gharials from the Kukrail Rehabilitation Centre in Lucknow have been released into the Ganga since January 2009. A project on Gharial Bio-logging Science has been launched in partnership with the University of Tokyo in Japan and WWF-India.

How did the ‘Gharial’ get its name?

A bulbous knob appears right below the nose of a male gharial when he reaches the age of ten. The knob is called ‘ghara’ or ‘gharal,’ which means an earthenware pot in Hindi. Ghara, prevalent in India and Nepal, have a passing similarity to the gharial’s snout; hence, the name- gharial.

Why do the eyes of gharials glow at night?

Gharials have a structure behind the retina at the back of their eyes called the tapetum lucidum that improves their night vision. This mirror-like structure helps generate a brighter image by reflecting light back into the eye a second time. When light falls on their eyes at night, the tapetum lucidum causes them to glow.

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