Conservation / Gharial
Touted for decades as the most successful conservation story in India, the Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) conservation program faltered, with only about 200 reproducing Gharials remaining in the wild. Formerly found in almost every river system in the northern Indian subcontinent, these large crocodilians are found today in only a few protected areas separated by hundreds of kilometers. Although the initial recovery initiative included both captive breeding and release programs in conjunction with the establishment of several game reserves, the plan failed to educate local farmers and fishermen. Instead, local people perceived the animals as competitors to their livelihood. Poaching has been and continues to be a major threat, especially in the National Chambal River Sanctuary (NCR), which had been a stronghold of the species for several decades.
In a revitalized conservation effort, the IRCF is now working to promote the Gharial Conservation Alliance as it resumes the work of the Gharial rehabilitation program and protection of critical riverine habitats. The current plan, however, calls for the educational efforts necessary to persuade local villagers to desist from their destructive behaviors; socio-economic work is being undertaken with the eventual aim of formulating plans for Gharial-friendly livelihood options for riverside communities within the sanctuary. Radio telemetry studies are contributing to a more scientific management plan and in situ as well as ex situ breeding programs, the latter at the San Diego Zoo, will, hopefully, give this unique species a fighting chance for survival.