According to the International Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report, over a million species of animal and plant life are now threatened with extinction – more than ever before in human history. The report also cites that wildlife population sizes dropped by 68 per cent between 1970 and 2018, and scientists predict that more than 1 million species are on the brink for extinction in the coming decades. Several species are threatened due to severe loss of habitats and indiscriminate killing for commercial gains. However, with sustained conservation efforts, the Indian state of Odisha has turned a new leaf to become the only region to have all three species of crocodiles– Gharial, Mugger crocodile and Saltwater crocodile, to naturally thrive in its wetlands.
Crocodile population in the state started to decline because of ever-increasing human activity along the rivers and their other traditional habitats. By the 1970s, the reptiles were on the verge of extinction. However, for the first time since they were introduced in its rivers back in 1975, the state has seen the natural nesting of Gharials, which is a critically endangered species.
According to a Hindustan Times report, Suvendu Behera, Assistant Conservator of Forests, said that a natural nesting of the Gharials were spotted near the Mahanadi river in the Baladamara area near the Satkosia range, towards the end of May 2021. The infant Gharials are being closely monitored by a team of forest officials with round-the-clock vigil including drones, he added.
Gharials belong to the crocodile family and they were moved from the ‘Endangered’ to ‘Critically Endangered’ list by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They have long and narrow snouts with interlocking sharp teeth and can be easily distinguished from other crocodiles. They prefer riverine habitats with sandy banks and the young one’s feed on a variety of insects and frogs, while the adults mostly rely on fish.
Lately, the natural habitats of Gharials are under threat due to encroachment and other commercial activities including fishing. However, Gharials were granted full protection in the 1970s and subsequently listed in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.