INITIATIVE

Ghariyals Are Back In Gandak

Ghariyals Are Back In Gandak

The mythological ghariyals are back in Gandak. The world famous Harihar Kshetra Mela at Sonpur in Bihar on the banks of Gandak is held to commemorate the mythological tale of Lord Vishnu coming to the aid of an elephant whose leg had been caught in the jaws of a hariyal in the Gandak river. According to reports, concerted efforts by conservationists, locals and Bihar Government forest officials for the past two years to revive gharial breeding in the Gandak river near the Valmiki National Park in West Champaran have begun to yield results as 20 hatchlings emerged from two nests recently, scripting a major success in gharial conservation efforts. “On June 14, twenty hatchlings emerged out of the two nests that we artificially created in-situ and shifted the eggs into it to save them from submergence and erosion due to the rise in the water level in the Gandak,” said Subrat Kumar Behera, the point man of the Gharial Conservation Project of the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).   

The shifted nests were monitored and protected by local volunteers, including villagers and project staff. Thirty-nine more hatchlings were observed swimming further downstream, Bahera added. Endemic to the Indian sub-continent, gharials are the fish-eating long-snouted crocodiles. It is estimated that only about 200 breeding individuals of the species, listed as critically endangered, survive in the wild today. Expressing happiness at the increase in the number of hatchlings in the Gandak, S Chandrasekhar, Conservator of Forests and Field Director, Valmiki National Park, said the successful gharial conservation efforts are a good sign for the river ecosystem. Fast current, clean water, and braided channels of the Gandak river make for the habitation a suitable gharial habitat. But massive erosion of sand banks after water is released in large volume from the barrage leads to the destruction of nesting sites either before egg laying or before hatching.

“The threat needs to be addressed by regulating the release of water from the Valmiki Nagar barrage, especially during nesting season, to assist gharials in successful breeding,” said Dr Samir Kumar Sinha, head of Species Recovery Division of WTI. Contrary to general understanding, gharials are not harmful to human being. The WTI has monitored 30 captiveborn gharials which were reared at Patna zoo and released back into the Gandak. A recent survey by WTI has recorded more than 160 gharials in the Gandak in its stretch in Bihar. Started in 2014, the project funded by the Bihar’s Forests Department aims at the revival of gharials in the Gandak, known as Narayani in Nepal. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessment did not recognise the Gandak as the breeding population of the species. However, the project first recorded gharial nests in the river in 2016, thus making it fourth extant breeding population in India, the other three being in Chambal, Girwa, and Ramganga rivers.