by Heather Lowe 

The TSA-India team, in association with the local forestry department, recently rescued a 14.5 foot male gharial from the Son River in India. The team encountered the male gharial basking with fishing nets wrapped around its snout in Son Gharial Sanctuary while they were conducting a turtle survey.

In addition to being entangled in the net, the animal’s body condition appeared poor. It is likely that the netting made it difficult for the gharial to catch prey and indicated that he may have been tangled for some time. The animal was also unable to open its mouth while basking, which is a common behavior for crocodilians. The team relayed their finding to Mr. K. Raman, the Field Director for the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department’s (MPFD) Sanjay Tiger Reserve, Sidhi. The official immediately visited the site to evaluate the situation and requested support from TSA-India to conduct a rescue operation to remove the fishing net.During an emergency analysis meeting, a rescue team of TSA and forest department staff, as well as experienced members of the fishing community, was assembled. The group included veterinarians, biologists and even a dedicated seven member crocodilian capture team. They worked quickly to plan the logistical arrangements and secured the necessary equipment to ensure a smooth rescue.

The operation began with the capture team securing the gharial in a net so that it could be transported to a safe location on the beach for the procedure. Once on the beach, the veterinary staff worked to gently remove the fishing net and assess the animal’s general health while biologists recorded body measurements. It was confirmed that the gharial was very thin, probably as a result of the entanglement, but otherwise seemed in fine health. An identifying notch indicated that this gharial was hatched at Kukrail Gharial Rehabilitation Center in 1994 and released in the Son Gharial Sanctuary at Jogdah in 2006 as part of their headstart program.

The entire rescue operation ran smoothly and was completed in less than an hour. When the procedure was over, the animal rested in a shallow pool briefly before returning to the river. After just 24 hours, the gharial was observed basking on the river bank with this mouth open! The Turtle Survival Alliance would like to thank the AZA Crocodilian Advisory Group and the Zoological Society of San Diego for their financial support of this rescue operation.