Gharial (Gavialis Gengeticus), the Indian variety of crocodiles, would soon return to its home – the Harike wetlands in Tarn Taran district – from where it had disappeared in the mid-1960s. It is an attempt by the Punjab government to check the decline in population of the reptile, which falls in the category of critically endangered species.
According to top officials of the state forest and wildlife department, the gharial’s presence would boost the tourism potential of the wetland, which already has a large variety of fish, about 20 dolphins and turtles, besides a large number of migratory birds arriving here during winters.
Of the total gharial population of 5,000 in India, only 200 are at the breeding stage. This freshwater reptile was once found in large numbers in the Indus river water system, but with the building of dams and barrages, it got confined to the wetlands. It vanished from Harike primarily due to unchecked hunting, said forest officials.
The forest and wildlife department came up with a proposal in 2007 for relocating 50 to 100 gharials in the wetlands. “It took us seven years to get approval from the Centre to re-introduce the gharial into Harike. Finally, the matter is to be decided by the Punjab state wildlife board,” additional principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) Dhirendra Singh told HT.
He said the breeding of gharials had already started in the Chhatbir zoo, near Chandigarh, and about 50 of them would be brought from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
“The reptile is at the top of the food chain in freshwater sources. Its presence in Harike would help increase the yield of fish for human consumption, since the gharial would eat the predator fish which devour the ones which people consume,” Dhirendra said.
The additional PCCF said the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was helping the state forest department in creating awareness about the reptiles in villages surrounding the wetlands, adding that village panchayats were supporting the forest department’s proposal.
“Studies have proved that the gharial does not attack humans, so the local residents know that they need not fear the reptile,” Dhirendra said.