GUWAHATI: The gharial , which has gone locally extinct from Assam 's river system, has resurfaced again. However, the jubilation was short lived as the reptile was stoned to death by villagers even before forest officials could reach the spot.
On Monday, a 5.11-ft-long female gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) was spotted at a sluice gate on one of the tributaries of the Ai river in the Nijlaguri area of Chirang district bordering Bhutan. But it sparked panic among the locals who killed it. Forest officials suspect that the reptile must have swam from the Bhutan side as there were earlier instances of gharial sightings in the rivers of western Assam.
"It is believed that by 1980s, the gharial went locally extinct from the river system of Assam. So, there is a high chance of the gharial sighted in Chirang coming from the captive gharial breeding centre in Bhutan. In the past, stray gharials from Bhutan were sighted in the rivers of western Assam which originate in the neighbouring country," said wildlife biologist Md Firoze Ahmed.
There were sightings of gharials, distinct from its cousins like crocodiles or alligators with its elongated and slender mouth, in the Brahmaputra at Hajo in Assam's Kamrup district in 2001 and in the Manas river in 2006. Again in 2008, a gharial was spotted at Chapar in Dhubri.
Ahmed said all these gharials had strayed out of the captive breeding centre in Bhutan as the species has been locally extinct from the state's river system. He added that along with habitat loss, misconception that gharials attack humans has led to the wiping out of the species from the state's river systems.
Ahmed said gharials can be revived, especially in the Brahmaputra river system, through scientific reintroduction of the species along with mass awareness campaign that they are not harmful to humans. "For this to happen, we first have to find out suitable habitats in the river system. As they are reptiles, they need sufficient and undisturbed space along the river banks for basking. We have to find out locations where the river banks are undisturbed if we go for gharial reintroduction programme," added Ahmed.