That once upon a time... a Gharial lived..
Not all of those are our "regulars", the Marshies (Marsh Crocodile or Mugger).. those particular long snouted ones you came across, are what are known as Gharials. They are, the longest living Crocodilians today. And they just got upgraded from "Endangered" , to "Critically Endangered" by the IUCN [International Union of Conservation of Nature] in its Red Data Book.
And unfortunately for them, and, eventually us, very very few of them remain. Out in those rivers which they called home since time immemorial, they are now confined to the scarce remaining clean blue patches of fresh water. Once their range extended over Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and India - basically, the Indian Sub-Continent excluding Sri Lanka. Today, they are chained to whatever remains of this habitat. They have already vanished from Pakistan, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, and are on the verge of disappearing from Nepal and India as well. India, however, is that silver lining that every cloud is supposed to have.
For the Gharial, India is the last remaining stronghold of their wild population. As for the captive populations and the breeding programmes, there is an on-going machine in the form of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and its fore-runner - Romulus Whitaker; who, with his team is putting every effort possible into keeping this Croc safe. Unfortunately, a certain crisis seems to have hit the already dangerously low population of the Gharials. This crisis, is a medical one which has given the species a death toll of 103 which, for this particular species, is a very tragic story.
As the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), India, along with veterinarians and Herpetologists from across the globe tries to figure out solutions and comes down hard on those taking the issue lightly, the common people, who have no less important a role to play in protecting the specie are being approached by students and volunteers who have worked on and understood this concern, and its immediate need for help.
"The Chambal Expedition - January 2008", was an expedition to the Chambal river to survey the density sites of the Gharials. The river is a 450km long stretch of India's cleanest waters. North India's fastest flowing river, the Chambal holds all the hope. It alone, is home to approximately 68% of the world's wild Gharials, giving it the status of an open treasure chest. Whether to safeguard that treasure or to let it be looted, is now in the hands of those who work for the Gharial's survival. This expedition was done by a team of 7 students who surveyed a 100km stretch of the river which is the initial part of the river. They walked for 10 days, covering around 10km a day, along the river, recording whatever sightings of Gharials they had, and plotting on digital maps their data. In this way, the team came up with 3 High Density Areas where groups with 9 or more than 9 Gharials were found. This expedition was a first of its kind and Tiger Watch, an NGO working un-compromisingly for the Tiger and the Moghiya community, very generously and encouragingly initiated as well as made it possible! The members of this team are - Pritish Panke , Sohini Vanjari, Digvijay Sabne, Sanket Deshpande, Neeraj Gade, Ruchik Pande, and myself- Apoorva Joshi. The pillar behind the sole existance of this team- Dr.Dharmendra Khandal, is a man of great will and even greater passion and zeal. He's the best any team can have. The absolute best! Fateh Singh Rathore, our present Tiger Man, also had another inexplicable role to play. It is a great feeling to see such support for the Gharial.
What we really need now, is a strong and well focussed group of people who will pledge themselves to the very survival of this specie. Who will work, survey, write, photograph, collect data and information, document it, everything! We need to monitor these few remaining animals so as to ensure their safety and get a clear record of the habitat, and any bad signs if seen. WWF's effort is commendable to the extent that they even have a daily update of the deaths recorded or peculiarities encountered, on their website.
The Gharial really does need your help today. With only a 182 surviving, and fighting, it becomes a priority concern with an animal which is 20 times more endangered than a Tiger! So if you want your next generation to see a Gharial instead of having to refer to a history text book to show it to them, then, come on! Take that effort, and move ahead. Contribute. Because every little bit DOES matter!
Next article on the Gharials- Coming Soon... :)