THE CONTEXT: The Mahanadi Wildlife Division in Odisha announced on June 10 a cash reward of Rs 1,000 for rescuing gharials, a critically endangered crocodile species, and informing wildlife personnel. The division will also provide compensation to fishermen, whose fishing nets are destroyed by gharials.
- The announcement of the cash award is an effort to conserve the gharials in the Mahanadi river basin.
- The population of gharials in the area was on a decline over the last few years and had reduced to just eight in January 2021.
- It spiked to 36 when 28 gharials were born last month in the Satkosia gorge of Mahanadi at Tikarpada, Angul district.
- The breeding of these reptiles in their natural conditions occurred after years.
- The forest department has launched an awareness drive to save the crocodiles in over 300 villages spreading over five districts: Boudh, Angul, Cuttack, Sonepur and Nayagarh.
- The Gharial is a fish-eating crocodile is native to the Indian subcontinent.
- They are a crucial indicator of clean river water.
- Gharials were once widely distributed in the large rivers that flow in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent.
- These included the Indus, Ganga, Brahmaputra and the Mahanadi-Brahmani-Baitrani river systems of India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan.
- They are also thought to have been found in the Irrawady River of Myanmar.
- Today, their major population occur in three tributaries of the Ganga River: the Chambal and the Girwa Rivers in India and the Rapti-Naryani River in Nepal.
- The Gharial reserves of India are located in three States – Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan
- Small released populations are present and increasing in the rivers of the National Chambal Sanctuary, Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, and Son River Sanctuary.
- Gharials reside exclusively in river habitats with deep, clear, fast-flowing waters and steep, sandy banks.
- The gharial is listed in schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and also described as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
- Their habitat is threatened because of human encroachment and fishing activities.
- They are genetically weaker than salt water crocodiles and muggers
- Gharials caught accidentally in fishing nets are either hacked to death or have their snout chopped off by fishermen.
- Forty gharials were released in the Ghaghara River by the Bahraich forest division of Uttar Pradesh recently.