Amritsar, May 16
Probably after over three decades, a long-snouted gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) has been spotted in Pakistan’s Punjab province for the first time.
It is believed that this rare mammal could be the part of a population reintroduced on the Indian side, but had drifted to the other side of the Radcliffe Line.
The matter came to light when Bilal Mustafa, a postgraduate researcher on the historical distribution of animals from the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) at the University of Oxford, recently posted a video clip. The video showed a couple of men, likely to be fishermen, attempting to free an agitating gharial from a net.
Mustafa, also a member of IUCN SSC Crocodile Specialist Group, told The Tribune that a possibility was that it swam all the way from the Harike wetland, around 50 km ahead of the India-Pakistan border, through the Sutlej river.
“I observe that it was seen in a stream of Pakistan Punjab after three decades. Otherwise, it was thought to be extinct. A possibility is that it has come from the Harike wetland on the Indian side through the Sutlej, might be during floods last year as observed by local residents who stayed nearby. The exact location of its re-emergence on the Pakistan side has yet to be confirmed. There could be more in line, I suppose,” he said.
Nonetheless, Mustafa, in his tweet thread, wrote that gharials were mentioned to be extinct in most of Pakistan’s rivers in 1978, according to the Pakistan Wildlife Conservation Strategy Report.
“The reason being the construction of barrages, illegal killing for skin trade and the use of gill net for their capture. Then again in a report in 1980s they were mentioned to be only in marginal numbers in the upper reaches of the Ravi, Sutlej and Indus rives, but in Pakistan they were thought to be in Nara Canal but it was not a habitat for them as they are an open water species,” he added.
On a lighter note, he said that the sighting of a gharial near the Indian border is a sign of hope that if both countries could come together for the cross country collaboration. “This can become a good initiative between both countries with the gharial acting as ambassadors for India-Pakistan relations,” he said.
The Harike wetland is where the Beas and the Sutlej converge. From 2017 to 2021, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature-India (WWF) in collaboration with the Punjab Forest and Wildlife Preservation Department had reintroduced and breed around 94 of these critically endangered species of crocodile in Punjab streams in different phases. These were mostly brought here from Morena in Madhya Pradesh.
Gitanjali Kanwar, senior coordinator of WWF-India, who has actively participated in revival of the gharial project, said Mustafa’s claim appeared to be believable.
“We are following it. The gharials, during their juvenile and sub-adult stages, have a tendency to migrate downstream. There could be a few more who made their way out from Harike into the main channel of Sutlej that flows into the Pakistan side. Yet, we are on the job to procure the ground information to ascertain the exact location from where this particular gharial made its way, whether through main channel or the minor ones,” she said.
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