Rajasthan: Gharials find a safe haven to breed

With its distinctively long thin snout, a baby gharial (Gavialis Gangeticus) broke through its shell on the banks of the Chambal river in Karauli district on May 23. This was part of the state forest department initiative to protect the egg laying sites of these river dwelling reptiles in the National Chambal Sanctuary.

Since then, some 6,300 gharial hatchlings have made their way to the river safely, proving that the conservation effort of the critically endangered species has borne fruit.

“In Rajasthan, efforts were made this year to protect the nesting sites. Surveys conducted covered 26 such sites of gharials with a total of 224 nests. Approximately 6,300 hatchlings were counted in 191 nests,” a senior forest official said.

As the mortality rate is extremely high because of predators and seasonal floods, intense patrolling and other conservation efforts were made to assist in natural breeding. “It was, in fact, a challenge to protect the gharial and turtle nests (both species lay eggs in March-April) from stray dogs, jackals, feral pigs and crows. Wherever possible, the nesting sites were fenced, often using thorny bushes to prevent predators. In Palighat, angle iron and wire mesh fences were used to guard the gharial nesting sites,” added the official.

For regular monitoring, the sites were marked using handheld GPS. For the first time, adjoining river depth of these sites was also recorded using handheld depth sounders. The staff conducted patrols and boat trips along the river banks to identify known and new nesting sites.

Sreya Guha, principal secretary, environment and forest department, said, “Ecotourism has immense possibilities in Rajasthan, given the huge variety. The chief minister had announced that NCS would be developed in the 2021-22 Budget and tourism infrastructure upgraded. We are now working on a plan to showcase the sanctuary in a sustainable and responsible manner so that not only the sanctuary is protected, but wildlife enthusiasts can also experience the beauty and thrill of exploring a hitherto unexplored destination.”

The NCS comprises 625km of the river in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and UP.

In Rajasthan, the NCS was notified in 1979 – the stretches between Jawahar Sagar Dam to Kota Barrage and Keshoraipatan to Gadi Tidawali. The easiest access points to the river are at Kota, Palighat in Sawai Madhopur and Dholpur.

An official claimed that Chambal has huge potential to be the most preferred destination for wildlife tourists. “Rajasthan has more to offer than its tigers. The gharial is among the largest of crocodiles and can grow up to more than four metres in length. It has an unmistakable elongated snout and its unique characteristics can attract thousands of wildlife tourists.”

In the 2021 Budget, chief minister Ashok Gehlot announced augmentation of tourism facilities in the NCS. As part of this announcement, infrastructure like floating jetty, camping facilities, nature trails, and boating are being planned. A centre for tourist guides is also in the works. The river section between Palighat and Rameshwarghat in Sawai Madhopur can become the natural hotspot for development given the good connectivity from Sawaimadhopur and the established tourist traffic to Ranthambore.

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