The freshwater gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) is distributed in three rivers in India and one river in Nepal. They are mainly threatened by the habitat alteration caused by dams and irrigation system construction projects, which lead to seasonal drying of rivers. Local people may also hunt them for their eggs, penis and fats which are used in traditional medicine. Moreover, the species has unfortunately experienced two mass die-offs. The first resulted from poor protection and habitat encroachment which reduced the population by about 50% between 1997 and 2003. The second decline occurred in the winter of 2007 to 2008, over a hundred of gharial died. According to the necropsy conducted by a team of international veterinarians, the mass die-off was possibly caused by the combining effects of exposure to toxins, and renal failure due to the unusually cold weather. Now, only about 180 individuals remained in the wild and the species is listed as â€œcritically endangeredâ€ in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
The Foundation supported a scientific research project in 2013/14 to save gharial from the brink of extinction. The research team used radio tracker to trace the animals in the National Chambal Sanctuary, India, in order to study their movements, activities, behaviour and biological information, which helped to formulate suitable conservation measures. Ken Leung and Vico Pat from The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology joined the field work in India through our â€œUniversity Student Sponsorship Programmeâ€. Letâ€™s learn more about the front-line work over there in India!