Gharial – Conservation Plan

ABOUT THE GCA

The Gharial Conservation Alliance (GCA) is an international organization of individuals in a variety of disciplines, who are dedicated to saving gharials from extinction and ensuring the establishment of sustainable wild populations. Conservation efforts of the GCA range from scientific population surveys, captive breeding and wild restocking programs, to education, awareness, and government lobbying. Several international zoos have become major players in gharial conservation through public education, awareness activities, and fundraising campaigns.

CURRENT CONSERVATION

Overview

Conservation work on gharials has been going on since the late 1970’s. However the recent revelations that gharial numbers are in steep decline indicates that despite the efforts of dedicated individuals the past strategies for conservation have not been effective. Therefore the Gharial Conservation Alliance and its allies are assessing past failures and developing new plans for immediate action to stem the decline of gharials.

Past conservation efforts included extensive captive breeding and “head-starting” gharials for release into the wild. Although captive breeding has been very successful the head-starting/wild-release programs seems to have been ineffective in stemming the decline of gharials, most likely due to the continued habitat destruction and factors contributing to gharial mortality.

Therefore the GCA is now focusing on habitat protection, enforcement of protected areas, education and cooperation with local people as conservation priorities for gharials.

More on current conservation projects in the works can be found in the GCA section

While these new efforts are getting started the GCA and partners are continuing and stepping up population monitoring efforts and ecological research. This population and ecological data will be used in developing and implementing management plans and advising policy decisions by government. All current and past data on gharials is being compiled to create a Gharial Information Database, which will be a valuable tool for future research and conservation work.

CONSERVATION HISTORY

History of Gharial Conservation Efforts
Despite best intentions and initial successes ultimately past conservation efforts failed to secure gharial populations. Several factors contributed to this failure.

  • Gharial habitat has not been secured.
  • Enforcement of protected status has been insufficient.
  • Wild restocking efforts were not followed up with consistent population surveys to monitor the survival of released gharials and the state of gharial populations.
  • Timeline of Past Conservation Efforts and Gharial Populations
  • 1940’s An estimated 5,000-10,000 gharials roamed from the Indus River in present-day Pakistan 3,000 km eastward across the Gangetic plain to the Irrawady River in Myanmar
  • 1970 S. Biswas reports gharials vanished from Kosi River, recommnded further surveys
  • 1973 Team from Madras Snake Park carry out extensive surveys of rivers, find only 200
  • 1975 Project Crocodile set up with Indian Gov’t and United Nations Development Program Food and Agriculture Organization (UNDP-FAO); 240 kms of habitat set aside in 6 gharial sanctuaries; 16 rearing centers set up for “head-starting” program;Crocodile biologist training center set up in Hyderbad (late became Wildlife Institute of India
  • 1975-1992 5,000 head-started gharial released
  • 1992 Ministry of Environment and Forests of India calls a halt to captive rearing of gharials and withdraws funds
  • 1992-1999 Dedicated gharial conservationists try to carry out surveys when possible along with their own work, but no systematic surveys carried out by Forest Departments
  • Mid 1990’s bandits that kept most people out of Chambal river are apprehended, region comes under control of resource exploiting “mafias”
  • 1996 Project Crocodile declared a success and money withdrawn
  • 1999-2003 No gharial surveys conducted
  • 2004 Crocodile researcherDr. R.K. Sharma reports gharial numbers in wild have plummeted; Gharial Multi-Task Force created by concerned conservationists
    2006 Survey indicates less than 200 mature breeding adults left in the wild
  • Application made by GMTF to the IUCN to change gharial status from “Endangered” to “Critically Endangered” in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
  • 2007 The gharial is officially listed as “Critically Endangered” in 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
    Surveys to date indicate around 200-250 mature breeding adult gharials in the wild, spread across fragmented habitats
    The Gharial Multi-Task Force changes its name to Gharial Conservation Alliance