By Prerna Singh Bindra
BEST SEEN AT: Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh
STATUS: Schedule I/ Critically endangered
GOOD TO KNOW: Gharials are descendants of crocodilians that inhabited the earth 100 million years ago
THE GHARIAL is the longest and the most ancient of crocodilians whose length can span over seven metres. Unlike their more adaptable cousin, the magar crocodile, which may even feed on a cadaver, the gharial demands a diet exclusively of fish. Its snout, with razor-sharp teeth, is ideal for fishing. The males also clap their jaws to announce their territory. The females lay their eggs on sandy river banks and are protective mothers. Their range once spanned over 20,000 sq km from Pakistan to Myanmar. Barely 200 breeding adults survive now, with a total population of about 1,200 in just three pockets – in the Chambal river, the Girwa in Katarniaghat in UP, and to a lesser extent the Ramganga in Corbett. Though gharials are poached for their skin, the real killer is loss of habitat, as rivers are polluted and breeding sites lost to sand mining. The Gharial needs clean and clear waters — essentially uncontaminated river eco-systems so vital to the survival of man as well. No wonder then that ancient wisdom decreed the gharial as the vahan or stride of the Goddess Ganga.