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Special Exhibits

New Reptile Facility - Year of the Gharial update

Presented by Ken Naugher, Zoo Deputy Director

In case you haven’t noticed the Montgomery Zoo has declared 2019 as the “Year of the Gharial”. The purpose of this campaign is threefold: create public awareness and education for Gavialis gangeticus, or the gharial, raise funds for the Gharial Ecology Project in India, and bring ten gharial to the Montgomery Zoo for education and potential captive breeding projects.

Gharial are fish eating crocodiles found only on the Chambal and Ganges river systems in Indian and Nepal. They are among the largest of all crocodiles. Females mature at a body length of around nine feet. Male gharials are mature when they reach a body length of around 14 feet and develop a bulbous mass on the end of their snout. This mass is called a “ghara” which means clay pot in hindi. It functions during courtship as a visual stimulus for females and it helps to produce bubbles during mating. It also allows gharials to produce a loud buzzing sound.

Despite captive breeding release projects in India and Nepal, the gharial population continues to drastically decline. Gharial are critically endangered with only 650-700 mature animals known to exist. Over 500 of these animals are found in the National Chambal Sanctuary in Northern India, this location contains the only viable self- sustaining population known to exist. 

In the winter of 2007 a mysterious mass die off of over 110 animals occurred among animals in the 6 to 12 foot age class at the National Chambal Sanctuary. In 2008 the Gharial Ecology Project (GEP) was designed to investigate the mass die off. Project activities are conducted by a small core staff of Indian biologists under the direction of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, a zoo located in South India, near Chennai. Professor Jeff Lang of the University of Minnesota, serves as the Senior Scientific Advisor.

The GEP has the following ultimate goals
1) to develop a comprehensive assessment of gharials in the National Chambal Sanctuary,
2) to identify and protect the species’ critical riverine habitats and
3) to reduce threats and challenges to the species’ continued survival.

Over the last decade the GEP has produced a detailed description of gharial behavioral ecology in the NCS. The GEP researchers have documented that adult gharials make seasonal migratory movements of more than 125 miles and exhibit complex social interactions, forming large nurseries of hatchlings, with males exhibiting protective behavior over hatchlings.

The Montgomery Zoo is working to help fund the GEP as well as working with the Madras Crocodile Bank and the Government of Indian to potentially import ten captive born animals for education at the Zoo. Please consider helping us with your monetary donations for this important project. Even small contributions will make an impact.

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