Last October, WWF-India, together with the local authorities, came to the rescue of a gharial trapped 100 metres downstream of the Lower Ganga Canal gates in Narora. The animal was initially released 160 km upstream, in Makhdumpur village within the Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary, as part of our gharial introduction programme.
One of our Ganga Mitras, led by Mohd Shahnawaz Khan, initially spotted the two metre long gharial trapped in the canal. The rest of the rescue process is detailed below…
Gharial Background: WWF-India’s efforts to protect endangered Gharials
In 2009, WWF-India, in collaboration with the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department initiated a gharial re-introduction programme in a stretch of the River Ganga that flows through the Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh. Since then, 678 captive bred juvenilegharial from Kukrail gharial Breeding Centre, Lucknow have been released. Ongoing field monitoring is being conducted to protect the released animals so that a breeding population is established.
Preparations for the rescue
After consulting officials of the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department, Meerut directed the forest department staff to join the rescue efforts and ensure the safe release of the gharial at Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary.
It took two days of preparation and a team comprising of staff from UP forest department, WWF India and fishermen to plan the rescue the gharial.
The rescue: a team effort
The rescue operations began with fishermen placing the net to capture the trapped animal. Team members were constantly in conversation with the local community to dispel their fears about the gharial. The team also had to ensure that there was no conflict or disturbance while the rescue operations were underway.
Once the animal was caught, it was placed into the wooden box that had been arranged to transport it back to Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary. The team carefully, and with much precaution, moved the gharial in the box in order to prevent any injury to the animal, then the box was brought to Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary and handed over to the officials of the forest department on order to ensure safety of the gharial during the night before its release back into the Ganga.
On October 28, 2017, after hours of preparations, the team comprising of members from UP Forest Department and WWF India transported the wooden box with the gharial to Makhdumpur village. The gharial was weighed and measured by the team members and it was heartening to see that the rescued gharial had gained 66 cm in length and 9.9 kg in weight in two years from its first release in 2015. It now weights 16.4 kg and is 208 cm long.
Apart from population monitoring, biometrics of recaptured are conducted to assess growth and health conditions over a period of time. This proves vital in ascertaining species’ population demography and also helps in understanding how well an animal is acclimatising to the new environment. Detailed studies have also been carried out to understand the species’ habitat requirements and behaviour such as feeding and social interactions that are necessary for conserving critical habitat stretches and for devising a long-term comprehensive plan to conserve and manage gharials in the sanctuary.
Finally, it was time to release the gharials back into the river. The release marked the culmination of the rescue operation which is a testimony to the commitment of the UP Forest Department and WWF India to restore a breeding population of gharials in the River Ganga.
About the gharial:
Gharial or Gavilius gangeticus belongs to the crocodilian family and is recognised as key indicator species for the Ganges basin. It has a long, thin snout with a bulbous growth at the end, a characteristic which gave the animal its name. It feeds on fish and is completely harmless to humans.