English Name : Gharial
Scientific Name : Gavialis gangeticus
Family : Gavialidae
Tamil Name: Gadial Muthalai
Description: It is easily distinguished from other crocodiles by the long snout which ends in a bulbous tip. Adult males have a large cartilaginous tissue on the tip of the snout hence the name gharial (ghara = pot). Adults are dark olive or brownish olive. It is whitish or yellowish below. Young are grayish brown with transverse bands. It has a tail that is oar like and is used in swimming.
Distribution and status: It was once common in the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra and the Mahanadi river systems in the Indian Sub continent but now has been restricted to Chambal, Girwa, Rapti and Narayani rivers of the Ganga River system. Once very common, increasing human use in the rivers has restricted the population. The species is now endangered. This is because of melting of glaciers in the Himalayas due to global warming that is washing also away sand banks that are its nesting grounds.
Habitat: These area river dwelling crocodilians inhabiting deep poles at river junction and bends called kiunds and the deep gorges in hilly country. They are believed to spread during the monsoon and return back to the pools at the end of the rains. Mid stream islands and sand banks are used for basking.
Habits: Facile swimmers, they are clumsy on land propelling themselves into the water with their legs and tails at the least sign of disturbance. Young animals make a growling sound when disturbed. Male gharials during the breeding season develop a snout at the tip of the jaw that is used for blowing on the surface of water to attract females. This `ghara’ is very prominent during the breeding season .
Food: Predominately fish. But also takes turtles, birds and small mammals and is said to feed on corpses. The fish caught is manipulated and taken head first. Their stomach contains stones like other crocodiles.
Life cycle: Mating behavior is similar in its basic pattern as in other crocodiles. The Ghara is blown by the adult male to establish territory and attract other females. It feeds on winter months and males are territorial during the breeding season. It nests in late March or early April. Clutch size varies from 10-96. Eggs are white and hard shelled. Incubation period ranges from 72-92 days. Gharials like other crocodiles show parental care in the form of nest protection, release of young and guarding of hatchling clusters. Mid stream islands and banks are used for basking particularly during the winter months. It is a good swimmer but clumsy on land.
Role in the environment: Gharials are really in danger of becoming extinct because of habitat loss due to various factors like global warming that is making the ice of the Himalayas to melt and flood the rivers. Gharials are basically fish eaters and any change in population of fish can lead to loss of population. Females need sandy shores for laying eggs in the Chambal valley. Of late there is loss of habitat due to global warming resulting in melting of glaciers in the Himalayas.
Photo source: Dr. J. Subramanean