The gharial, once estimated to have existed in the thousands, has now been declared critically endangered with only less than 235 alive today. That’s a decline of 98% experienced in just three generations. Commonly misclassified as a crocodile or an alligator, the gharial, also known as Gavialis gangeticus, actually belongs to the family Gavialidae. This crocodilian can measure up to 6.25 m (20.5 ft) surpassing all other crocodilians. Furthermore, the gharial is renowned for its thin, long snout: an evolutionary solution enabling them to catch fish with ease.
Their territory once stretched from the Irrawaddy River to the Indus River; now it only occupies 2% of its former territory. Unsurprisingly, humans are responsible for their current endangered status. In 1946, around 5,000 to 10,000 gharials existed on Earth. Due to overhunting for skins, medicine, and trophies the gharial population rapidly decreased throughout the years. Furthermore, man-made structures such as dams and irrigation canals removed the habitats these animals once lived in.
Fortunately, conservation attempts are being carried out in India and Nepal. Breeding programs with the goal to raise their conservation status from being endangered are currently in action. Even international organizations like the United Nations and Food and Agriculture Organization have aided these projects with funds.
Now, gharials are being bred in captivity and are a popular attraction in zoos around the world. Our experience with this species serves as an example for other animals we’ve driven close to extinction: it’s never too late to fix our mistakes.