Gharial Crisis - An Update | WWF India

Gharial Crisis - An Update

Posted on
05 March 2008
After extensive research and numerous deliberations on the unprecedented mass mortality of gharials in the National Chambal Sanctuary, it seems that toxins in Yamuna river system are the most likely cause behind these mortalities.

Since December 8, 2007, when the first mortality was reported, 110 gharials have succumbed to gout possibly caused due to toxins in Yamuna. It is believed that Tilapia – an introduced fish species – could have been carrying the toxins and excessive consumption of the same by gharials caused these mortalities. However, the exact composition and nature of the toxin and how it entered the river system is still being studied.

Definitive analysis of the problem is being severely hindered by delays in submission of results of materials sent for pathological and toxicological analysis to various laboratories and institutions.

“The crisis is not over yet,” warns Mr. Ravi Singh, Secretary General and CEO, WWF-India, and Chairman of the Crisis Management Group, “as indicated by recent gharial deaths in UP - and the study of causes of the mortalities have also not been definitely identified so as to enable contemplation of mitigation measures”. In fact this crisis is much larger in its environmental implications than the mere threat it has so far posed to the gharial.

A well-coordinated effort in the form of Crisis Management Group (CMG) was set up early in January 2008, and has been facilitating monitoring work on the ground and interaction with national and international vets for diagnosis of the cause of mortality. The group was formed at the behest of the Ministry of Environment of Forests, Government of India, and constitutes the forest department representatives of the three states, conservation organizations and scientific institutes. The group is being coordinated by WWF-India.

A review meeting, chaired by Director General of Forests, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, at MoEF, was organized on Friday, February 29, 2008 and attended by representatives from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan forest departments, Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) and WWF-India. The government assured that all pending investigation results will become available at the earliest for necessary action. It was also decided that IVRI would be the nodal organization for coordinated comprehensive investigation and the process of collection of fresh samples would be continued.

Mr. Ravi Singh added, “The crisis is just an indicator of a larger problem involving the mismanagement of rivers and water resources and may well be signifying the degradation of the ecology of these river systems. This problem should be dealt at the highest level.”

It was recommended that:
• Toxicological investigations must be pursued and completed as speedily as possible.
• Pollution in Yamuna must be checked
• Formation of a coordinated management plan through participation of three state governments, NGOs and local communities
• Formation of a Chambal Action Group comprising of field staff, local communities, NGOs, ex-officials for monitoring and assistance in management.

Latest ground situation:
• Viral or bacterial infection are ruled out as a possible cause of the mortalities
• Total mortality now stands at 110 gharials with 75 mortalities have been reported from Uttar Pradesh, 34 from Madhya Pradesh and one from Rajasthan
• Though most of the mortalities have been confined to a 35-km stretch of the Chambal River, one or two cases of gharial mortality have been reported way upstream.
• Two dolphins and one mugger have also been reported dead from the crisis zone but should NOT be considered as part of the crisis
• It is likely that “infected” gharials present in the Chambal river system may succumb to the gout
• Heavy metals, though found in higher than normal levels in gharials, were not responsible for the deaths
• Mass fish die-offs have been reported in Yamuna on at least three occasions in last seven to eight months

For more information, please contact:
Anshuman Atroley, Communications Manager, WWF-India
Tel: 4150 4797, E-mail: aatroley@gmail.com  

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