It may look like a novelty stapler, but this is the most endangered large animal in India. And that includes the elephant.
Before some of you say “good, please continue to kill it with fire”, there are some things you should know about the gharial. Even though it’s nearly as large as its notorious Nile cousin, and it’s taken a lot of crap from us – sometimes literally in its river home – it poses no threat to humans. The reason? It’s more interested in your goldfish.
Also known as the long-nosed crocodile, it spends its days waiting for a flicker of fish nearby before snapping it up and shaking it like a dog with a squeak toy. It’s not actually a crocodile either. It’s one of just two species of Gavialidae, and due to its weak legs, it only goes on land for some sun and lovin’.
The males’ ghara or “pot” at the end of their snout is part of it, used to make attractive buzzing noises. It’s so irresistible that it can woo multiple females, who are happy to share babysitting duties as much as their boyfriends. They have one of the best mother and baby groups in the animal kingdom, so why has their population plummeted more than 90% since the 1940s?
Take your pick. They prefer fast-flowing rivers, which more often than not get dams slapped in the middle of them. Some bright sparks think the gharas are just as irresistible to human females, and we’ve stolen their eggs and skin for “medicine” or bragging rights. They’re as adept at escaping new-fangled fishing nets as hairdressing, and they’re continually booted into more polluted rivers. But the real crunch came in 2007, when a toxin seeped into their biggest remaining love-nest in the Chambal River and caused gout, or “rich man’s disease”.
The affected gharial certainly didn’t want for anything, mainly because they were dead. There were over 100 casualties, and since their breeding population was already below 500, it was an extra kick in their 100-plus teeth. A WWF species recovery programme has been in place ever since, but this has been complicated by the less than stellar state of some of India’s rivers (exhibit B, the Ganges river dolphin), and the fact that male gharials take five more years to mature than females, which can upset the dating pool somewhat.
On a lighter note, the boys can blow bubbles through their snout, and are sometimes the chosen ride of Hindu goddess Ma Ganga. That’s reason enough for their big grin.
Latin: Gavialis gangeticus
What? A fish-eating crocodilian
Where? India, and some pockets of Nepal
How big? 5-6 m/16-20 ft long (males), 3.5-4.5 m/
11.5-15 ft long (females)
Endangered? Yes, critically
Probable motto: I’m the least deadly croc but I get the most crap. Thanks a lot, humans.
They sound interesting. Do they need my help at all?
100 times yes. And you’d be helping other river species too, if the illicit offspring of a venus flytrap and a hand saw isn’t your thing.
Just to prove I’m not fibbing
Basu, Paroma. 2008. “Rare reptiles’ mass die out due to poison-induced gout.” National Geographic News.
“Crocodiles, alligators or gharials?” 2018. Crocodile specialist group.
“Gavialis gangeticus.” No date. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
“Gharial“. 2014. BBC Nature.
“Gharial“. No date. National Geographic.
“Gharial“. No date. Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.
“Gharial“. No date. WWF India.
“Gharials and people”. No date. Gharial Conservation Alliance.
“Gharial Crisis. An update.” 2008. WWF India.
Nair, Tarun. 2011.”Of dams, dacoits and death – the saga of the Chambal gharials.” Sanctuary Asia.
Safi, Michael. 2017.”Murder most foul: polluted Indian river reported dead despite ‘living entity’ status“. The Guardian.
Stevenson, Colin, and Whitaker, Romulus. 2010. “Gharial gavialis gangeticus.”
Featured image credit: Vicnt.