The whole reason I’m in Nepal is to do research for a book I’m contracted to write about crocodilians. Two species of crocodilians live in Nepal and three throughout the Indian sub-continent. Once the most common croc in its range, the gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) is now critically endangered and outnumbered by the merely vulnerable mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) seen above.
Sometimes the Gharial is called the world’s most endangered crocodilian but the Chinese Alligator is also in nearly as bad of a situation. The gharial population has suffered a decline of 90% with fewer than 200 adults found in the wild in Nepal.
The gharial is though, without question one of the weirdest, most unique crocodilians alive today. One of the world’s largest crocodilians, the gharial has a thing, fragile snout designed to reduce water resistance for lightning fast capture of fish. Gharials are also the only crocodilian with any sort of sexual dimorphism, the males bearing a bulbous growth or ‘ghara’ on the end of their nose.
The male gharial guards a territory, mating with all the females within that territory. Inevitably this results in massive amounts of young from multiple females which congregate together in groups called crèches. These groups of youngsters are looked over by several females as well as the father for a few months. Sometimes the babies climb on the adults backs and heads to sit in the sun. Unfortunately for the young gharials, the situation changes drastically during the monsoon. With higher and faster water in the main courses of most rivers, the adult gharials move to the smaller tributaries and wait out the rain. Often babies are washed downstream by monsoonal rains. Sometimes they die. Other times the gharials are washed over dams which they can never navigate past to return upstream, thus depleting their birth places of gharial young. Occasionally they manage to hang on. This is part of the reason gharials are endangered, in addition to being hunted for skins and killed for Chinese medicine, beyond being incidentally killed when caught in fishing nets, dams are bad for gharials. Unfortunately major river diversion and dam projects are under way in Northern India and Nepal, where the last wild gharials live. It’s unlikely to do any favors to muggers either.