15.	WWF-India has recently launched a Gharial conservation initiative to protect the animal from ... 
© Sandeep Behera/WWF-India


Key Facts

  • Common Name


  • Scientific Name

    Gavialis gangeticus

  • Length

    3-6 meter (Male), 2.5-4 meter (Female)

  • Weight

    150-250 Kg

  • Population

    Approximately 800

  • Status

    Listed in Schedule I of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and as Critically Endangered on IUCN Red List

© WWF-India
© WWF-India


Gharial derives its name from ghara, an Indian word for pot because of a bulbous knob (narial excrescence) present at the end of their snout. The ghara also renders gharial the only visibly sexually dimorphic crocodilian. The species are largely piscivorous of all extant crocodilians. Possession of a strongly attenuated snout and rows of uniform sharp teeth supported by a relatively long, well muscled neck makes it a most efficient fish catcher.

Conservation Issues

Dam, barrages, and water abstraction adversely affects gharial by turning suitable river habitats into marginal/ unsuitable lakes, and by altering the quantity and quality of water available to downstream river sections. Gharial, with its long, toothy rostrum is particularly vulnerable to entanglement in fishing nets, where it is frequently trapped underwater and drowns. Entangled gharial are also commonly killed or have their rostrums chopped off to disentangle nets and perhaps, in retaliation for damaging nets. River bed cultivation threatens gharial survival by alienating them from the terrestrial component of its habitat leading to desertion and migration. Removal of sand from riverbanks disrupts gharial behaviour and may even force local populations to desert the area. Sustained mining activity may destroy vital basking and nesting sites and may also result in direct mortality of eggs during the nesting season. Egg harvesting for subsistence food use by riparian residents at some gharial locations directly increases egg mortality, reduces recruitment, and may also facilitate additional predation by natural nest predators.

WWF-India’s Initiatives

WWF-India has been involved in the Species Recovery Programme ever since the National Chambal Gharial crisis in December 2007. In collaboration with the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department, WWF-India started a gharial reintroduction programme at Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary. Since January 2009, 250 captive reared gharial from Kukrail Rehabilitation Centre (Lucknow) have been released into River Ganga. In collaboration with University of Tokyo, Japan and WWF-India has initiated a study on Gharial Bio-logging Science to understand the underwater behaviour and surrounding habitat of a free ranging gharial. WWF-India works in coordination with the local communities to elicit support for biodiversity conservation in River Ganga. This includes education and awareness programmes and Village Panchayat Meetings (Ganga Samrakshan Panchayat) to understand and coordinate conservation, management and development of water and related resources across different stakeholders within the Upper Ganga Basin. It is also working towards maintaining e-flows, minimizing the impacts of illegal sand mining, pollution and riverbed farming.

Habitat and Distribution

Gharial prefers deep fast flowing rivers, however adult gharial have also been observed in still water branches (jheel) of rivers and in comparatively velocity-free aquatic environments of deepholes (kunds) at river bends and confluences. Smaller animals seem to conserve energy by resting out of the mainstream in sheltered backwaters, particularly during the monsoon (July-September). Sand and rock outcrops are preferred basking sites and these animals show considerable site fidelity. Historically, gharial were found in the river system of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and southern part of Bhutan and Nepal. Today they survive only in the waters of India and Nepal. The surviving population can be found within the tributaries of the Ganges river system: Girwa (Uttar Pradesh), Son (Madhya Pradesh), Ramganga (Uttarakhand), Gandak (Bihar), Chambal (Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan) and Mahanadi (Orissa).
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