Gharial, Indian Gharial, Fish Eating Crocodile, Indian Gavial, Gavial, Long Nosed Crocodile
Kingdom : Animalia
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Order : Crocodylia
Family : Gavialidae
Genus : Gavialis
Species : gangeticus
IUCN : Critically Endangered
IWPA : Schedule I
CITES : Appendix I
U.S ESA : Not listed
Gharials were once widely distributed in the large rivers that flow in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. These included the Indus, Ganga, Brahmaputra and the Mahanadi-Brahmani-Baitrani river systems of India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. They are also thought to have been found in the Irrawady River of Myanmar. Today, their major population occur in three tributaries of the Ganga River: the Chambal and the Girwa Rivers in India and the Rapti-Naryani River in Nepal. The Gharial reserves of India are located in three States – Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Current distribution map of Gharial. (Source:Gharialconservationalliance.org)
Characteristics, Habitat and Behaviour:
Among the largest crocodilians, the Gharial can grow to 7m in length and has a thick skin covered with smooth epidermal scales that do not overlap. The snout of the gharial is uniquely the thinnest and most elongated among all the crocodilians. In addition, the adult males sport a large bulb at the tip of their snout, called the 'ghara'. It is also the most aquatic of all crocodilians for it never moves far from the water. Females lay their eggs in steep, sandy river banks (Hussain, 1999).
Gharials reside exclusively in river habitats with deep, clear, fast-flowing waters and steep, sandy banks. Adult gharials prefer still, deep pools, formed at sharp river-bends and river confluences and use sandy banks for basking and breeding. Young gharials are found in much shallower, rapid flowing stretches in the water. Unlike other crocodiles, the gharials feed on warm-blooded species and even the largest gharial adults feed exclusively on fish, which they catch between the pointed interlocking teeth of their long jaws. The young gharials prey primarily on small invertebrates such as insects, larvae and also small frogs. The mature adults feed almost solely on fish. The gharial’s characteristic long narrow snout has very little resistance to water, allowing swiping motions to snap up fish in their mouth. The gharial's numerous needle-like teeth are perfect for holding on to struggling, slippery fish. Although primarily fish eaters, some individuals have been known to scavenge dead animals. Although gharials are not man-eaters, they have been given this reputation for sometime primarily due to myths. Despite its immense size, its jaws make it physically incapable of devouring any large mammal, including a human being. The life span of the Gharial is not exactly known, however, it is thought to be around the same span as other reptiles, 50 – 60 years in the wild. Gharials appear threatening to the average swimmer or fisherman as they have a similar appearance to crocodiles.
- Alteration of habitat - Throughout the present range of the Gharial, the rivers have been dammed, diverted for irrigation and other purposes leading to seasonal drying of once perennial rivers.
- Depletion of prey base due to increased intensity of fishing and use of gill nets is rapidly killing many of adults as well as subadults.
- During the dry months, when the water level of the river is down, planting gourd crops and herding livestock for drinking and grazing on the sand banks and river edges has become prevalent all along the Chambal River, which results in destruction of the habitat.
- Harvesting of eggs and poaching for the use of it’s body parts as medicines has been traditional and is still reported from Nepal and, occasionally, in India.
Hussain, S.A. (1999). Reproductive success, hatchling survival and rate of increase of gharial Gavialis gangeticus in National Chambal Sanctuary, India. Biological Conservation, 87(2); 261-268.
Last Updated: July 9, 2018