Friday, June 19, 2009

Chambal diary: 1. The Gharial

The Chambal river is the border between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh for a bit, and remains one of India's cleanest rivers. The National Chambal Sanctuary has succeeded in preserving very good populations of several truly bizarre yet incredible animals. The river is not strictly part of my PhD study area, but is very much part of the Sarus scape, and is one of my favourite locations in Uttar Pradesh. It therefore qualifies to be included in this blog! This small series of entries is a celebration of some of these denizens!

The Gharial is found only in south Asia. It is closely related to crocodiles, and has been around on Earth for a very long time.

It is an exclusive fish-eater - something that the turtles in the Chambal seem to know quite well!

The National Chambal Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh has a great record of breeding Gharials - it is common to see young babies (top), and teens of all sizes (below) basking on the sands!

The crocodilian gets its name from the inverted pot-like mound on the end of the adult male's snout - a ghada in Hindi, if you will.

The Gharial has its set of problems even in the protected Chambal. I must underscore that these have diminished greatly thanks to an active forest department staff, and a force of dedicated conservationists and scientists. One of the more horrible things that used to happen a lot in the past was due to illegal fishing in the river. Gharials used to get stuck in fishing nets trying to get at the captured fish. Fisherfolk, in their hurry to escape, and to save the nets and fish, slashed at the captured Gharial with knives sometimes cutting off part of the snout.

Some of these Gharials lived (above), though not for long. They are probably not able to catch fish with their reduced snouts!

Many Gharials, however, are lucky to escape with part of the net sticking out of their snouts like forgotten floss (above).

Fishing has reduced greatly as a threat, and Gharials now seem to be able to live to ripe old ages (notwithstanding catastrophic and unpredictable events like a recent die-off - which has completely stopped, thankfully)!

I owe a great debt to the Uttar Pradelsh forest department for inviting me several times to participate in their Gharial and bird censuses in the National Chambal Sanctuary. Despite exceedingly limited resources, staff are very active to ensure that illegal fishing is reduced, and wildlife is as undisturbed as possible. A great resounding ovation to these folk, and to all the scientists and conservationists working to conserve these totally fab animals!

ll photos were taken between Aug 2008 and Feb 2009 in the Uttar Pradesh portion of the National Chambal Sanctuary. For those interested in Gharial conservation and ecology, be sure to check out this fabulous website dedicated to these amazing animals: Two fabulous films have been made on the Gharials - one classic is The Ganges Gharial by the Bedi Brothers, and a more recent Crocodile Blues by Icon Films: both must-sees for Gharial and nature buffs!)


  1. it seems you have traveled all around the world and I wish I could do the same, I am gonna take a Sabatical and I would like to go to different places where the culture is so rich as in Indian

  2. I admire ur efforts to create awareness about crocodiles and their conservation. I hope it will help a lot.

  3. Hi Gopi
    Am writing a story about the gharial for young kids. 'Gara has a Toothache' Do you know anyone with a photograph that I can use for the info page at the end of the book?
    You can look me up on