January 23, 2008
Conservationists Searching for Killer of Rare Reptiles
The gharial, a 5 to 10 foot crocodile-like reptile with a long slender snout, nearly became extinct in 1970. The government helped to raise its numbers, but it may be on its way back to extinction.
Since early December, between 50 and 80 bodies of dead gharials have been found washed up on the banks of the Chambal River. The Chambal is one of few unpolluted rivers in India, and a safe place for the gharial to live. There are only around 1,500 gharials left in the wild, and the Chambal's breeding population is one of the three largest in the world.
Chief Wildlife Warden D.N.S. Suman claims the river is clean and free of harmful metals. Because the Chambal is so clean, Conservationists aren't sure who or what to blame for the deaths.
The gharials began washing up in early December, when 21 bodies appeared in a 3 day period. Officials have questioned whether parasites or pollution may have been the cause.
The most recent hint at what might be killing the endangered reptiles is a parasite that has been found in the dead reptiles' damaged, swollen livers and kidneys. This parasite and its origins are unknown.
Others think that the gharials might have consumed contaminated fish from an adjoining river, the Yamuna. Both lead and cadmium were found in the bodies of the gharials, and since the Chambal contains no harmful metals, this seems like a viable option.