'Gharial' deaths in Chambal a concern for environmentalists

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New Delhi, Mar 5 (UNI) Concerned over recent gharial deaths in Chambal National Sanctuary, environmentalists today warned that the crisis is just an indicator of a larger problem involving mismanagement of water resources, signifying the degradation of their ecology.

It seemed that toxins in Yamuna river system have been the most likely cause behind these deaths.

The Secretary General and CEO, WWF-India and chairman of the Gharial Crisis Management Group Ravi Singh today said, ''As indicated by recent study on gharial mortalities in Uttar Pradesh, the cause has not been identified so as to enable contemplation of mitigation measures.'' The issue was discussed at WWF-India Secretariat here, where experts demanded special attention for the species following the recent deaths of 110 gharials in Chambal National Sanctuary, their largest habitat in the country.

The first mortality was reported on December 8 last year.

It was believed that Tilapa -- an introduced fish species -- could have been carrying the toxins whose excessive consumption caused the deaths.

During floods, the river push heavy water level in Chambal, through which the toxins are introduced.

''In fact, this crisis is much larger in its environmental implications than the mere threat it has so far posed to the gharials,'' he added.

Of the total deaths of gharials (Gavialis Gangeticus), 75 have been reported from Uttar Pradesh, 34 from Madhya Pradesh and one from Rajasthan and most of the mortalities have been reported in the Uttar Pradesh side of the river, near the confluence of the Chambal and Yamuna.

''Gharials are listed as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species,'' said Dr D Basu who has been working on gharials for 30 years.

Chambal river between its confluence with the Parvati river and Panchhnada has been protected as National Chambal Sanctuary for the conservation and management of gharials under Section 18(1) of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. It is a tri-state sanctuary managed by Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajashthan forest departments.

WWF-India has been doing intensive exercise with the Centre, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh forest departments to tackle the problem with all available resources. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has constituted a Crisis Management Group, which includes representatives of trio states. A field base camp has set up at Etawah where a coordinator and research personnel were deputed and conducting regular monitoring and updating records.

Gharials face several threats some of which are active, while others are latent whose intensities fluctuate over with passage of time. Threats which directly kill them are illegal fishing and turtle hunting.

The experts on gharials were disappointed that conservation projects are not given serious efforts and this problem has not observed at national level. ''The crisis is not over yet,'' warns Mr Singh. ''This problem should be dealt at the highest level,'' he added.

UNI KK RP AS1841

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