The population of gharials (Gavialis gangeticus), a crocodilian endemic to the Indian subcontinent, has gone up in the Gandak river in Bihar.Three surveys in 2017 and 2018 recorded about 211 gharials of different age-groups present in the river, as compared to merely 15 recorded in 2010.A joint conservation initiative between the Wildlife Trust of India and the Bihar Forest Department released captive bred gharials into the Gandak in 2014.However, the thriving gharials are facing problems due to the Gandak barrage and fishing nets. Lalsa Yadav gushes with a big smile on his face every time he spots a gharial in the river Gandak, that flows through West Champaran district of Bihar, bordering Nepal. He tries to take his rickety boat close to the adult gharials (Gavialis gangeticus) enjoying a sun-bath in a chilly wintery afternoon, but they disappear into the deep water. He oars his boat further with the hope of seeing more of the large-sized reptiles in the river. “Contrary to popular belief, they are very shy by nature and escape inside water even on slight disturbance. The river has quite a number of gharials nowadays which has made it easy to spot them. We are lucky to have them,” he says with a sense of pride. Gharials are members of the crocodile family, historically found in various parts of the Indian sub-continent. The 50-year-old fisherman with a strong body and bulging muscles has every reason to feel proud. After all, he has worked tirelessly with conservation experts and administration to protect and bring back the population of gharials from the brink of extinction, in the river Gandak, a transnational river between India and Nepal and a tributary of river Ganga. “We [the fishing community] have played a big role along with the authorities to save the reptiles that were in the danger of being hunted down or eggs getting washed away due to sand bank erosion,” he said. “The efforts have paid off as gharials can now be easily spotted in the river because of the increase in their population,” he continued, pointing to two sub-adults at the far-end of the river. Indeed, the population of gharials has witnessed an upward spiral in the Gandak that now houses the second largest population in the country, after the river Chambal (National Chambal Sanctuary) stretch that covers Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, claim those involved in its conservation. Gharials basking on the bank of Gandak river, Bihar. Historically, gharials were found across the Indian subcontinent. Hunting and loss of habitat led to a 98% decline in population between 1946 and 2006. Photo by Subrat Kumar Behera. A remarkable increase Based on three surveys done by Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) between 2017 and 2018, around 211 gharials of different age-groups are present in the river as compared to merely 15 recorded in 2010. The WTI conducted three continuous surveys in the entire stretch of the Gandak river in 2017-18. In the survey conducted from February 4-11 2017, 119 gharials were sighted in the entire stretch of the river. In 2018, two consecutive surveys (February 9-17 and 21-27) documented 148 and 166 gharials respectively in the same stretch. Around 40 hatchlings have been sighted in 2018 after the survey so experts expect the number to increase this year. The findings have brought cheer to conservationists as the gharial is a critically endangered species. Endemic to the Indian subcontinent, the gharial is the most aquatic of all extant crocodilians and resides in flowing rivers with deep pools, high sand banks and good fish stocks. Its distribution range has shrunk significantly and currently it occupies only about two percent of the former range. Old references indicate that the gharial was widespread across the Indian subcontinent: it was common in the Indus river in Pakistan, Gandak river in Nepal (locally known as Narayani), Jumuna river in Uttar Pradesh and Kosi river in Bihar. It was also found in Burma (now Myanmar), Bhutan and Bangladesh. In India, the gharials are now found mainly in Chambal, Girwa, Ghagra and Gandak river basins. The population has registered a 98 percent decline between 1946 and 2006; the adult population nosedived, with a 58 percent reduction across its range in just nine years, starting from 1997. The reason for the decline has been attributed to over-hunting for skins and trophies, egg collection for consumption, killing for indigenous medicine and excessive and irreversible loss of the species habitat. In such a scenario, presence of the second largest population of the critically endangered gharials in the Gandak river becomes important for conservation of the species.