Odisha Moves To Save Endangered Gharial Crocodiles

Bhubaneswar : With gharial crocodiles on the verge of extinction, Odisha forest department has undertaken a pilot telemetry transmitter project to conserve the endangered reptiles.

5 gharial crocodiles (three females and two males) were released in Satakosia gorge in the Mahanadi river system with biotelemetry transmitters fitted into their bodies to track their migratory movement. A team of researchers will keep day-to-day tracking of their movement as these species released in the wild in the past were not re-sighted, said forest officials.

 The gharial crocodile species, a critically endangered species and accorded threatened status by International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), are fast disappearing from their habitats in Satakosia gorge in the Mahanadi river system in Odisha’s Angul district. Despite conservation measures launched in the past, only, ten gharals are sighted in the wild by the enumerators.

Incidentally Odisha is the lone State in the country where three species of crocodiles- salt-water, gharial and mugger- are found inhabiting in the river systems.

The forest department had earlier adopted captive rearing of these animals so that their population could register rise. But the experiment has failed to yield the desired result. Though around 800 gharials artificially bred in captivity were released in the wild since, these reptiles could not be spotted later on.

The gharial crocodiles were radio-collared under a pilot project as suggested by experts from Wildlife Institute of India, Deheradun. The project has got underway with technical support from Madras Crocodile Bank Trust. The department has planned to release 30 gharials in next three years. The hatchlings that were released in the wild were three year old and were of one metre long.

As the population of these species unlike the salt-water crocodiles in Bhitarkanika is not registering upward trend, it had become imperative to track their movement, said Chief Wildlife Warden, Ajay Kumar Mahapatra.

Gharials, considered a critically endangered species, survive on live fish. But Satkosia wildlife sanctuary authorities were facing a shortage of the gharials’ staple. That’s why fishing activity has already been declared in the Satkosia gorge, the habitat of these crocodiles.

The rear and release of the salt-water, mugger and gharial crocodiles has been going on since 1975, funded by the United National Development Programme and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The conservation project for estuarine crocodiles undertaken in Bhitarkanika tasted success while a similar UNDP-funded ‘gharial croc’ conservation project launched simultaneously in Angul district’s Tikarpada Sanctuary covering Satakosia gorge has proved to be a failure. The mugger crocodile conservation project in Ramatirtha in Ganjam district was a success with rise in their population.

The salt-water crocodile population in Bhitarkanika has increased from 96 in 1974 year to 1742 so far. Adequate conservation measures by the state forest department in Bhitarkanika have led to a systematic rise in the number of these reptiles over the years. However dwindling food reserve coupled with human interference has led the gharials disappearing from Satakosia. Enumerators have sighted less than a dozen of gharials in the wild.