At the Zoo: Indian Gharial
The Zoo is home to 4 crocodilian species: the American alligator, Orinoco crocodile, Philippine crocodile, and Indian gharial. Many critically endangered species find their home here, but few of our species are as rare in the wild as the Indian gharial. Scientists estimate that there are fewer than 300 individuals left in their native range, and, unfortunately, this number is decreasing. Here at the Zoo, we are privileged to work with these animals on a daily basis.
Many guests mistake the Indian gharial for its distant cousin, the American alligator, but those who look closely will notice many unique physical features that make the gharial truly distinct. Gharials have a narrow, slender snout that allows them to slice through the water with ease, a long neck to maximize their range of motion, and 110 teeth that function to pierce and grip their prey. These features make them a fierce predator, but the Indian gharial isn’t tackling wildebeest or zebra. Gharials love to eat fish, which is uncommon among crocodilians.
Because they mostly eat fish, we are able to house Indian gharial with tufted deer and a large group of turtles. Deer would most certainly be on the menu for most other crocodilians, but the tufted deer and Indian gharial live well together. Like most reptiles, gharials do not need to eat as often as we humans do. Twice weekly, animal care staff offer trout by extending a bamboo rod toward the shore where the gharials are eagerly waiting.
About: Indian Gharial
Calmer areas of deep, fast-moving rivers.
Rivers and hill streams of the northern Indian subcontinent.
Weight: 350-400 pounds.
Length:12-15 feet, but males can reach 20-30 feet.
40-60 years in the wild.
Lays 28-60 eggs (the largest of any crocodilian species) with an incubation period of 94 days.
Small fish, a variety of insects, and small vertebrates such as frogs (juveniles), fish (adults).
Fun Facts: Indian Gharial
- Although the gharial is one of the largest crocodilians, it has the narrowest snout of any crocodilian species.
- The gharial has quite weak legs, and fully-grown adults are unable to raise their bodies off the ground when on land.
- Its long, narrow snout enables the gharial to whip its head sideways through the water to snatch prey.
Conservation: Indian Gharial
The Indian gharial was once found across much of Southeast Asia, but now it is only found in a few places in India and Nepal. Conservation efforts focus on lobbying for political support for gharial, river biodiversity conservation, enforcement of the existing wildlife laws, and protection by the forest and police departments. These efforts will help reverse this trend.
The Gharial Conservation Alliance is working to monitor gharial populations and determine alternative release sites of captive bred and head-started gharials. Most importantly, this Alliance is helping to create plans to increase the standard of living for people living along the river, and to minimize dependence on river resources. The Zoo is a committed supporter of the Gharial Conservation Alliance and participates in nearly 100 AZA Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs to help ensure species survival. Some of the individuals bred at zoos and aquariums are ultimately released into the wild to increase wild populations. This is especially true of reptiles and amphibians, such as the Indian gharial.
How You Can Help
Adopt an Animal!
You can help support expert animal care at the Zoo as well as local and global conservation efforts by purchasing a symbolic animal adoption package.
When you become a member of Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo you are supporting conservation year-round.
Be a Conservation Leader!
Each of us can help protect the environment, wildlife, and habitats through choices we make in our daily lives. Even small changes can make big positive impacts on the world around us.
- Do not purchase reptile products – Indian gharials and other reptiles are collected to make retail products at unsustainable rates in Southeast Asia and their collection significantly reduces gharial populations.
- Encourage sustainable fisheries – Learn about sustainable fisheries at SeaFood Watch and Project Piaba to learn how your purchases can harm or help the environment.