Anugul: Odisha has emerged the only state to have all the three species of the reptile freshwater Ghadials at Satakosiya in Mahanadi, muggers in Bhitar Kanika National park and saltwater crocodiles.
Gharial eggs need incubation for 70 days, and the hatchlings stay with their mothers for several weeks or even months.
For the first time since they were introduced in its rivers back in 1975, Odisha has seen the natural nesting of Ghadials, a critically endangered species. As many as 28 hatchlings were spotted towards the end of May in the Mahanadi, in the Baladamara area near the Satkosia range.
Officials have been monitoring them closely since, with round-the-clock surveillance with drones.
All the original Ghadials introduced over the years in Odisha are dead now. Having waited more than 40 years for their numbers to grow naturally and for them to lay eggs, Odisha introduced 13 more Ghadials over the past three years in the Mahanadi. Only eight survived. While the Forest Department is still tracking two of them via their radio collars, the other six have moved out of its radar.
With the introduction of Ghadials in 1975, Odisha had become the only state to have all the three species of the reptile freshwater Ghadials, muggers and saltwater crocodiles.
About 50 forest officials from six forest divisions are monitoring the hatchlings, camping close to their habitat, patrolling the water bodies and spreading awareness across 300-odd villages located close to the river to help preserve the Ghadials.
Gharials, being different from muggers, do not harm humans. But many people mistake them for crocodiles and consider them harmful.
Anugul Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF) Suvendu Behera said that they would be watching the Ghadials till they are in their natural habitat, which is deeper waters.
“Gharials come to the shallow areas to lay eggs. Most of the gharials introduced in Odisha earlier were first kept in the Nandankanan zoo before being released into the river,” he said.
As per Prashanna Behera, wildlife warden of Anugul district, the habitats of Ghadials are under threat due to encroachment and fishing. Those caught in fishing nets are either killed or have their snouts cut off.
Gharials are also weaker than crocodiles and muggers, and don’t survive a fight between them.
Gharials were granted full protection by law and listed in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.