A late afternoon call from one of our Ganga Mitra informed us about a gharial being trapped 100 m downstream of the Lower Ganga Canal gates in Narora, a town located 160 km downstream of Makhdumpur village (see Pic 1). Makhdumpur village is within the Hastinapur Wild Life Sanctuary and is the site where the gharial was released as part of our gharial introduction programme. A team led by Mohd Shahnawaz Khan reached the site on October 25, 2017 and spotted the gharial trapped in the canal, It appeared to be over 2 m in length.
Pic 1: Map indicating site of gharial capture, transportation and re-release in River Ganga
The news to the officials of the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department including Dr. S.K Upadhyay, Chief Wildlife Warden, Mr. Aditya Kumar, Chief Conservator of Forest, Meerut; Mr. Lalit Verma, Conservator of Forest, Meerut, Ms. Aditi Sharma, Divisional Forest Officer, Meerut and Mr. V.K. Jain, Divisional Forest Officer, Bulandshahr and WWF India. Mr. Lalit Verma, Conservator of Forest, Meerut directed the forest department staff to join the rescue efforts and ensure the safe release of the gharial at Hastinapur Wild Life Sanctuary.
Subsequently a team comprising staff from UP forest department, WWF India (comprising Sanjeev Kumar Yadav, Mohd. Shahnawaz Khan, Himanshu Sharma, Raju, Ramavtar) and fishermen were formed to rescue the gharial. The rescue operations began on October 27 with fishermen placing the net to capture the gharial. Our team members were constantly in conversation with the local community to dispel their fears about the gharial. It also helped ensure that there was no incidence of conflict and disturbance while the rescue operations were ongoing.
Once the gharial was caught, the next task was to move it into the wooden box that had been arranged to bring the gharial back to Hastinapur Wild Life Sanctuary. The team carefully and with a lot of precautions moved the gharial in the box in order to prevent any injury to the animal. Thereafter, the box was brought to Hastinapur Wild Life Sanctuary and was handed over to the officials of the forest department for ensuring the safety of the gharial during the night before its release in River Ganga.
Preparations were done to release the gharial in Makhdumpur village on the banks of River Ganga in the early hours of October 28, 2017. The team comprising members from UP Forest Department and WWF India transported the wooden box with the gharial to Makhdumpur village. The gharial was weighed and measured by the team members.
It was heartening to see the rescued gharial (scute ID 7341) gain in length from 142 cm to 208 cm and in weight from 6.5 kg to 16.4 kg in a period of 2 years from its first release in 2015. Finally, it was time to release the gharial back into the river. The release marked the culmination of the rescue operation which is testimony to the commitment of the UP Forest Department and WWF India to restore a breeding population of gharial in River Ganga.
Pic 9: Gharial after release in River Ganga