BHUBANESWAR: After a gap of four decades, breeding of the endangered gharial species has been witnessed in the fresh waters of Mahanadi river in Satkosia gorge. PCCF (Wildlife) Sashi Paul said that at least 28 hatchlings from a nest have been sighted by the officials and research team working for the revival of the gharial population in the river.
The hatchlings were spotted at Baladamara area of the sanctuary. The population breeding of gharials started way back in 1972. Though natural breeding continued to take place for the next two to three years, it stopped after 1975. "Since 1995, I had never come across any such development till now," said Satkosia Field Director Pradeepraj Karat. The river has two crocodile species - Mugger and Gharial.
"While Mugger species has a good population, especially in the downstream of the river, Gharial population was not picking up even after the revival project due to various factors including fishing, flood, fight with Mugger as well as lack of monitoring of the project," Karat said.
Monitoring of the Gharial population was strengthened only after Satkosia was declared a tiger reserve in 2007 and protection of the core area enhanced in 2014 making the gorge a fishing free zone. After the Gharial population fell alarmingly in the gorge, the officials of Satkosia and Nandankanan Zoo worked out a blueprint in 2019 to increase their population in the river.
The decision to release Gharials from Nandankanan was also taken as their number exceeded in the Zoo. Though a decision has been taken to release 30 sub-adult Gharials to the gorge in a phased manner, around 17 have been released so far of which around 13 have managed to survive, sources said.
Officials, however, said the breeding has taken place within the existing population, which were in the gorge before the fresh reintroduction. "We will have to improve our monitoring further to increase the survival rate of the hatchlings," Karat said.
"The revival of Gharials will go a long way in securing the ecology of Mahanadi," said wildlife conservationist Aditya Panda.
Senior IFS officer Susanta Nanda said around seven adult female Gharials from Nandankanan had been released in Satkosia in 2017 during which the population in the gorge was only three, including a male. Now, the Gharial breeding is being documented with success due to hard work of all staff and conservation team, Nanda said.