Gharials were brought back from the brink of extinction in the 1970’s, but again gharials are in danger of disappearing from the wild forever. Results from the 2006 and 2007 census indicate in the wild there may be only around:
Gharials are now listed as “Critically Endangered” in the International Conservation Union (IUCN) Red Book of Endangered Species based on the latest survey results indicating drastic decline in gharial populations over a period of one generation. Gharials are listed under Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), which bans the trade of any gharial products or body parts. Gharials are protected under wildlife protection and conservation acts in their remaining range areas of Nepal and India.
It is illegal to kill gharials or collect gharial eggs in both of these countries.
CITES: Gharials are listed in Appendix 1 of CITES
IUCN Red Book – “Critically Endangered” in the 2007 IUCN Red Book of endangered species, Criteria C1, A2b, A2c
India – Wildlife Protection Act
Nepal – National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973
Gharials face a number of threats, but at present the most significant are habitat destruction and death caused by illegal fishing and turtle poaching. Gharials face these threats even within protected areas. The Chambal river, the last stronghold of gharials, is under particular threat from illegal fishing, turtle poaching, and sand-mining, which are carried out by organized armed groups, making enforcement and even research activities difficult and dangerous.
Increasing riverbank use for agriculture is a widespread problem throughout gharial range areas. As the rivers recede agriculture advances on the river banks, further limiting the few nesting and basking areas available for gharials.
Sand extraction is allowed outside of protected areas but continues even along the riverbanks within the National Chambal Sanctuary. Large-scale sand-mining destroys the sandy banks required by gharials and turtles for nesting and basking, and causes disruption to nesting and basking behaviour.
Cattle, water buffalo, and goats are grazed along the riverbanks of many gharial habitat areas, causing destruction of sandy banks and gharial nests.
Gharials are shy and wary animals, so human activity and livestock grazing cause disturbance of natural gharial activity such as nesting and basking.
Pollution and siltation of rivers are damaging fish stocks upon which gharials depend, as well as threatening the numerous other species of animals and plants within the river ecosystem.
Dams, barrages, and irrigation projects are changing the courses and water levels of the rivers. In some areas diversion of rivers and extraction of water for irrigation have drastically lowered river levels, making some former habitat now inhospitable for gharials, especially during the dry season. In some areas the release of monsoon overflow waters from dams, or the release of water for dam maintenance, has a devastating tidal-wave like effect on gharials. Many gharials are washed out of Protected Areas by these floodwaters, where they are more likely to be killed, and are sometimes washed all the way out to sea. This is thought to be a significant source of mortality in hatchling gharials.
Gharials are often caught in fishing nets, their long slender snouts easily becoming entangled in the fine nets. Unable to surface to breathe, many drown. Others break free but with nets wrapped around their snouts they may starve to death. Often when gharials are found entangled in nets their heads or snouts are cut off by fishermen. A gharial can survive for some time with its snout chopped off, but will slowly die by starvation over many months. Gharials are also caught and killed in long lines of hooks set for turtle poaching. Recently young gharials have also been found snared in noose traps designed to catch ducks.
Overfishing in some areas is threatening the prey base of gharials. Gharials are sometimes blamed for dwindling fish populations, making some fishermen unsympathetic and even hostile towards gharials. Gharials are sometimes killed by fishermen that see them as a threat to their livelihoods.