The ambitious project to re-introduce Gharial into Punjab's river waters has run into technical complexities.
While the sanction from the Central government and Punjab is for releasing 15 sub-adult (two-year-old) Gharials bred from the Chhatbir zoo into the Harike Wildlife sanctuary, the recommended sites by the World Wide Fund (WWF)-India's field staff are on the Beas river upstream of the sanctuary's protected waters.
The sites for gharial basking and nesting approved by the WWF-India's River Watch Project Study are Jalalabad and Govindwal, while sites found suitable only for basking are Bahrowal, Gagdewal and Karmowala. These five sites lie 10-50 km downstream of the Beas railway bridge.
However, these sites were not found ''workable'' by the department of forests, Punjab, as neither could security be provided nor was there adequate work done with village communities and fishermen to convince them to accept the Gharial's future presence.
Faced with this reality check, WWF-India and Harike wildlife staff then evaluated three islands on the river Beas within the protected limits of the sanctuary. These sites fell within 3km of the Harike barrage and canals.
Since Gharials are known to migrate downstream or even be swept away by flood waters, the possible danger arose of these reptiles getting entangled or dying in these irrigation works. Bowing to these complexities, the Punjab government has now decided to seek a technical evaluation by leading crocodile experts on habitat feasibility before going ahead with Gharial re-introduction. The technical workshop is scheduled for March 10-12 at Harike.
The possibility of a 'soft release' of a limited number of Gharials (i.e. within a fenced enclosure at Harike) rather than a 'hard release' is also under consideration.
"The WWF-India will not give its assent to any site which is not technically feasible. We would like to keep the sites as much upstream on the Beas and as far away from the river Satluj, which is a dead river due to pollution," said WWF-India's senior project officer, Harike, Gitanjali Kanwar.
Previous re-introduction programmes of critically-endangered Gharials in India have shown extremely high mortality. The dangers of Satluj's pollution weigh heavily on such a programme because pollutants have caused mass deaths of Gharials in other Indian release sites.
PUNJABI BY NATURE
As Meenakshi goes to the kitchen, Scooby stirs from idling, pesky habits and periodically pecking at grapes/sunflower seeds. The parrot flies straight from the bedroom, down the aisle and takes a sharp left turn to alight on her shoulder next to the gas stove. Scooby then eats tidbits such as 'paranthas', scraps of omelettes and its favoured dish: curried chicken! Not a shred of chicken is left by the time Scooby's hawk-like bill is through with it. And, having turned 'Punjabi by nature', Scooby relishes 'gachak'.
After dinner, as Sonu crunches ‘gachak’ in his mouth, he indulges Scooby, who deftly pokes the bill inside and retrieves a few sweet scraps. And, if you entertained any further doubt about the character of this feathered foodie's habits, reckon this: biscuits and rusks dipped in tea make Scooby's mouth drool like impatient Punjabis in a queue at a wedding feast, eyeing their turn at simmering 'jalebis'!