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The Gharial Expedition-III - December 2009

A Summary

The Gharial Expedition is a survey done along the Chambal River to document Gharial populations in one segment along the Rajasthan side of the National Chambal Sanctuary. Following a mass death of Gharials during the winter of 2007, an ‘expedition’ was launched by Tiger Watch [an NGO working in Ranthambhore].
Study Area:
The Chambal River is a tributary of the Yamuna River in central India. The river flows north-northeast through Madhya Pradesh, enters Rajasthan forming the boundary between Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh before turning southeast to join the Yamuna in Uttar Pradesh. It is a perennial river and originates at Manpura, south of Mhow town, near Indore, on the south slope of the Vindhya Range in Madhya Pradesh. The Chambal and its tributaries drain the Malwa region of northwestern Madhya Pradesh, while its tributary the ‘Banas’, which rises in the Aravali Range, drains south-eastern Rajasthan.

The segment surveyed during the expedition is the first 100 kilometres from Pali heading downstream towards a village called Khirkan. The present expedition was the third of its kind after two previous surveys done in January 2008 and then in December 2008.

Previous Expeditions:
The first Gharial Expedition took place in January 2008. Documentation of high population areas, evident threats to the Gharial, human interference and also a checklist of all other fauna in the study area formed a part of the expedition. The expedition ended with a total count of 82 Gharials.

The second Gharial expedition took place in December 2008. The team surveyed the same stretch of the river [approximately 100km] and recorded Gharial numbers. This time, importance was given to documentation of habitat destruction and quantification of the threats.

The expedition ended with a total count of 124 Gharials, including ONE DEAD SPECIMEN. The dead Gharial – caught in a fish net – was the first death reported from the Rajasthan side of the river.

The Current Expedition:
A six member team surveyed the specific stretch of 100 kilometers over 11 days in December 2009. The documentation involved Gharial and Mugger numbers, quantification of threats, assessing land use patterns along the banks, recording the flora of the area and gathering the socio-economic status of the villages along the Rajasthan bank.

The expedition ended with a total count of 122 gharials, 103 Muggers and one dead Mugger.

Comparative Account:
The data from three such expeditions conducted over three years showed the following trends:

The High Population Recorded Area [HPRA] of gharials has remained consistent over the three years. More than 90 % of the gharials were recorded in the area.

There has been a significant increase in the fishing activity in this area. The number of fishermen recorded during the present expedition [Dec 2009] is twice the number recorded during the previous survey [Dec 2008].

There has been an increase in the number of water pumps along the banks, suggesting that there could a considerable increase in the agricultural activities. [The least number of water pumps were recorded in the Gharial HPRA].

The sand and stone mining activity along the banks has remained unchanged.

Significant Findings:
A dead specimen of a Gharial was reported by the team in December 2008. The location was in the tourist area between Pali and Rameshwaram. The specimen was found entangled in a fish net. The post-mortem report revealed that the animal had multiple fractures in its lower mandible. This indicates that the death could possibly be because of struggle and subsequent drowning.

During the summer of 2009, the Tiger Watch team conducted a rapid survey on a boat in the tourist area [Pali to Rameshwaram]. The team reported one dead Gharial and one dead Mugger, both entangled in fish-nets. These deaths were also reported to the concerned authorities.

During the present survey, one dead Mugger was recorded in the Gharial HPRA on the 7th day. Although there was significant fishing activity seen around the dead Mugger, the actual cause of death is unknown.<

Funding for the Expedition:
The funds for the present expedition were raised through a fund raiser event ‘Fera’ held at Bangalore in October 2009. The event was an art, photography and tribal handicrafts exhibition & sale.

A group of young wildlife artists, wildlife photographers and acclaimed wildlife photographer Mr. Sudhir Shivaram contributed their works for this event. The event was inaugurated by Dr. Ravi Chellam [Director, WCS India] and the proceeds from the sales of art works and photographs were donated as funds for the Gharial Expedition.

Expeidition Team :
Mr. Arjun Srivatsha, (pawsia@gmail.com) Mr. Suyash Katdare, Mr. Sujay Kotian, Mr. Vishal Rashal, Mr. Alok , and Mr. Sojanya Srivastava

In the guidance of:  Mr. Fateh Singh Rathore, Vice Chairman, Tiger Watch.