Bhubaneswar, July 22 (LocalWire): With gharials on the verge of extinction, the state forest department has undertaken a pilot telemetry transmitter project to conserve the endangered crocodiles.
Five gharials (three females and two males) were released in Satakosia gorge in the Mahanadi river with biotelemetry transmitters fitted into their bodies to track their migratory movement.
A team of researchers will track their day-to-day movement as in the past once these species were released in the wild they were not re-sighted, said forest officials.
The gharials, a critically-endangered crocodile species have been accorded ‘threatened’ status by International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
They are fast disappearing from their habitats in Satakosia gorge in Angul district.
Despite conservation measures launched in the past, only ten gharals have been sighted in the wild by enumerators.
Incidentally, Odisha is the lone state in the country where three species of crocodiles – salt-water, gharial and mugger – are found inhabiting in the river systems.
The forest department had earlier adopted captive rearing of these animals to increase their population.
But the experiment failed to yield the desired result.
Though around 800 artificially-bred gharials were released in the wild, these reptiles could not be spotted later.
The gharials were radio-collared as suggested by experts from Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun.
The project got underway with technical support from Madras Crocodile Bank Trust. The department has planned to release 30 gharials in the next three years.
The hatchlings that were released in the wild were three-year-olds and w one metre long.
‘Unlike salt-water crocodiles in Bhitarkanika, the population of these species was not registering an upward trend and it had become imperative to track their movement.
Dwindling food reserve coupled with human interference has led to gharials disappearing from Satakosia.
Enumerators have sighted less than a dozen gharials in the wild,’ said chief wildlife warden, Ajay Kumar Mahapatra.
Gharials survive on fish but Satkosia wildlife sanctuary authorities were facing a shortage fish and therefore, stopped fishing in Satkosia gorge.
The rearing and release of salt-water, mugger and gharial crocodiles has been going on since 1975, funded by the United National Development Programme and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The conservation project for estuarine crocodiles undertaken in Bhitarkanika tasted success while a similar UNDP-funded ‘gharial croc’ conservation project launched simultaneously in Angul district’s Tikarpada Sanctuary covering Satakosia proved to be a failure.
The mugger crocodile conservation project in Ramatirtha in Ganjam district was a success with a rise in their population.
The salt-water crocodile population in Bhitarkanika has increased from 96 in 1974 to 1742 so far.