A Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) has been sighted on multiple occasions at different locations in the Mirzapur stretch of the Ganges in Uttar Pradesh. It was first reported by two fishermen (Naresh Sahni and Ravindra Sahni) at Shitladham ghat, Adalpura (Chunar) while they were fishing around 4 pm on 26th February, 2020. According to them, the Gharial was old, and may weigh approximately 200 kgs.
In another sighting, on 29th February 2020 near Shastri Bridge, Mirzapur, it was basking on a small delta / sand deposition between the flow of the river. A video recorded by some local fishermen surfaced on WhatsApp, shows some people tried to go near the reptile to catch it after which it escaped into the river. According to news reports, there are multiple occasions when the Gharial came back for basking, and people scared it away after gathering on both sides of the riverbank. This indicates massive disturbance which is a violation of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. Discussing the sighting with local boat operators indicated that it was a male adult gharial, seen basking for the last 2 days in this area.
These are the first documented gharial sightings in recent times from the Mirzapur stretch of the river. It confirms habitat suitability and biodiversity along the stretch from downstream Newada in Allahabad district to Adalpur in Mirzapur district. Interestingly, this has been recommended as a wildlife sanctuary by the Wildlife Institute of India (2018) in its technical report, “Assessment of The Wildlife Values of The Ganga River From Bijnor To Ballia Including Turtle Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh”. Gangetic river dolphins, turtles, ground-nesting birds, riverine birds and 45 species of fish were included in the report. Clearly, fish availability and sandy islands are an indication of good habitat for gharials in this stretch.
The Divisional Forest Officer (Mirzapur) confirmed the sighting and mentioned that while this stretch of the Ganges is habitat of the Gharial, it is uncommon because of high human activity and disturbance. He also informed that a team of forest staff has been deployed to monitor the situation.
Historically, Gharial were common and abundant in the main rivers and tributaries of the Indus, Gangetic and Brahmaputra drainages, and inhabited the Mahanadi-Brahmini system in north central India too. Today, they are on the verge of extinction and listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List and in Schedule I of Wildlife Protection Act.
Gharials have long slender jaws for fishing. On the tip of the male’s snout, there is a bulbous shape like a pitcher (termed ghada in Hindi), giving it the name Gharial (one bearing a ghada). A normal gharial can be 12 to 15 feet in length and can weigh 150 to 250 kg. Gharials bask in the sun and sometimes in the shade to control their body temperature.
Since Gharials are critically endangered they require proper monitoring of their movements. A lot of awareness needs to be generated among the people residing along the banks, including livelihood schemes such as fishing, boating etc.
- Vindhyan Ecology & Natural History Foundation (VENHF)
- IUCN Red List
- IUCN Gharial conservation
- WII (2018): Assessment of Wildlife Values of the Ganga River from Bijnor to Ballia Including Turtle Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh. Technical Report. Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun. Pp. 66.
- WWF – India