Envis Centre, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Govt. of India

Printed Date: Monday, February 26, 2024

Twenty Two gharials back from extinction











Chandigarh: These were awe-inspiring moments for the global cause of wildlife conservation as 22 Indian gharials kept their tryst with destiny and swam back from the brink of extinction. A Tricolour planted on the shores of the River Beas fluttered valiantly in the stiff breeze whipping the sand as these critically-endangered crocodiles from the Chhatbir zoo were granted freedom at 11am on Wednesday, 14th March 2018. 



This brought the number of the gharials freed into the Beas to 47 and concluded the first phase of the re-introduction of the species six decades after it went extinct in Punjab. The 47 gharials are first to be re-introduced into the entire Indus-river system, which fulfils the long-term aim of 'Project Crocodile' initiated in 1975 by the Government of India. "The forest and wildlife preservation department of Punjab had permission to release 50 gharials into the Harike-Beas system. We have completed the first phase and will submit a report to the Union ministry of environment and forests so that it sends a representative to Punjab, later, to evaluate the re-introduction project. After that, we expect that the ministry will allow us to release the next batch of gharials, which will not be before the post-monsoon season of 2018," principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) Kuldip Kumar said.  



The gharials have been released into the Beas in three batches-10 on December 25, 2017, 15 on January 31, 2018, and 22 on Wednesday. The latest batch is of 18 females and four males. A special feature of the latest release was that four of the 22 gharials carried bright yellow silicon cattle tags on the tail end, which will separate them from the earlier batches and make sightings much easier. 



All 47 gharials have been marked for individual identification by a process called "scut markings" on the tails. 



The Tricolour was planted at the release site so that documentaries and photographs of the gharial release could carry rich symbolism when viewed in global wildlife conservation forums. The gharial re-introduction project is considered a successful Indian campaign at restoring a species verging on the brink of extinction. It was brought to fructification under the guidance of global crocodilian expert BC Choudhury, and his student, Neeraj Gupta, who had done the groundwork since 2015 while posted as district forest officer (wildlife) at Harike and later as DFO (wildlife, headquarters). 



The yellow cattle tags represent the traditional hues of 'Basant' or the warmth of spring. Since temperature has risen to more than 20 degrees Centigrade, the cold-blooded gharials warmed up quickly on release from their special caskets that transported them to the release site from Chhatbir. 



"During earlier releases, the weather was cold and it took the gharials three-to-four hours to move and settle on the Beas islands and river stretches. But within an hour on Wednesday, the 22 gharials had moved off energetically to the island near Wazidbhullar village, where six gharials from the earlier batches were present. The release site is 79 kilometres upstream of Harike barrage and about 4 km downstream of the Beas bridge," Chhatbir Zoo education officer Harpal Singh said.








Source: The Times of India