Saturday, September 12, 2009

Gharial is an exclusive fish-eater.............. Not!

Gharial is now the most critically endangered large animal of South Asia with population reduction of >80% over 3 generations. With less than 200 breeding adults left in the wild, Gharial is one of the most endangered animals on earth.

Distribution of Gharials is now restricted to a few places in India and Nepal; the largest wild population being in National Chambal River Sanctuary and then in Katerniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary.

Gharials have a typical long and slender snout built for catching fish efficiently. They are exclusive fish eaters (?). They are a riverine species and are often seen basking out on banks with other animals like turtles and birds showing no fear from these 'harmless' creatures.

One of the breeding females at Madras Croc Bank. She is gorgeous. Photo by Katie Maxwell.

Super interestingly, on the morning of 2nd September 2009, Nick Ballantyne, one of our international volunteers working on temperature profiling of an enclosure housing Gharials and Batagur kachuga turtles, came back after his daily morning reading and said "I saw the male catch an egret!"

"Really? Wow man.When?" I was now putting in charged set of batteries in my cam.

"Just now. He still has it in his mouth" he said. 


I had reached the enclosure, stunned by the sight.

A fledgeling Little egret (Egretta garzetta) was wandering close to water's edge in pen#24 (a.k.a. temple turtle pond). The male Gharial was keeping an eye on its constant movements. The egret was hopping on some of the partially emerged stones out of water. This made the Gharial curious and it came closer to investigate. The 'not-so-smart' egret thought Gharial's head was a stone and attempted to land. WHAM! The Gharial got it in his jaws! This could just be his reaction to the whole jumping-on-the-head thing. I have actually seen this before; in fact with the same animal. But then he let it go in the previous occasion. But this time he had some other plans!

Our male Gharial swallowing the egret!

I was taking pictures thinking that he'll probably spit out the egret in a while. Just then, he started swallowing it! I could not believe my eyes! I wanted to take a video of this but then the damn camera betrayed. I had to turn it off and then turn it back on. He had already swallowed the bird by then. I managed to get some good stills though.

"Amazing huh? Fish eater!" replied Gerry when I told him what I saw. This was so crazy.

"This is one of the weirdest things ever! This is the first record of its kind. Very important to make a note of it" said Rom

It was a m a z i n g seeing all this happen from a distance of 10 feet! AWESOME!


Ralf said...

Breathtaking shots!
It was most surprising for me, that one of the males with broken jaws has been able to catch the bird! Amazing, really! Congratulations, Soham.

Unknown said...

This is brilliant stuff!! Always thought that they probably eat a variety of fish and probably some stuff no one knows about but Egret was the last thing I'd have expected! Downright smashing!

Dhruvajyoti Basu said...

Actually Soham I would tend to think that the stupid egrets in the croc bank are most irritating shitting all over the place an robbing lot of the fish the gharial are given. The behavior may be prompted by the artificial familiarity the gharials in the enclosure develop with egrets. In their natural habitat where good healthy fish are plentiful they may not go for egrets and birds habitually. I think what you recorded was a very rare event. I have seen gharial catching a rat snake a a treating it very mush as if it were a fish or an eel.