Gharials in India: Gharials were introduced to Odisha’s rivers in 1975, and now, for the first time, the state has witnessed a natural nesting of the critically endangered species. According to a report in The Indian Express, officials had spotted 28 hatchlings of gharials late last month in Mahanadi river, near Satkosia range, and since then, the hatchlings are being monitored closely round the clock. Officials are also using drones to keep an eye on them. This is a big development, because all of the gharials that had been introduced in the state 46 years ago had died without any hatchlings. After the long wait of 40 years for natural expansion of the species did not bear fruit, the state introduced another 13 gharials in the river over the past three years.
Of these 13 gharials, only eight survived. What’s more is that while the forest department had fitted them with radio collars to keep a track of the gharials, they are only able to track two of them now because the rest six have moved out of the radar.
When Odisha introduced gharials to Mahanadi in 1975, it became the only state in the country which had all three types of the reptile, i.e. saltwater crocodiles, freshwater gharials and muggers.
The hatchlings are being observed by about 50 foresters from the department, and six foresters are close to the habitat of the newborn gharials and their mother, while others are either patrolling the water bodies or trying to make the nearby villages to help preserve the species. For monitoring of the hatchlings, solar-powered CCTVs are being used, the report quoted Ravi Meena, the Divisional Forest Officer of Satkosia Range, as saying.
While eggs of gharials have an incubation period of 70 days, the hatchlings remain with the mother for several weeks or sometimes, months.
Another concern for the forest department is the possibility of hatchlings straying into breakaway nullahs or being swept away due to rising waters in the ongoing monsoon, and so, to prevent that, the main river area is patrolled by a team of four people split into two country boats. Local fishermen have been roped in for this purpose.
Satkosia Field Director Pradeep Rajkarat has also been cited by the report as saying that the teams are making people aware of the fact that gharials do not harm humans, adding that this was important because people often mistook gharials for crocodiles and considered them harmful. By raising this awareness, they are hoping that villagers would not harm the hatchlings.