Thanks to the local community’s protective measures, hundreds of critically endangered gharial crocodiles hatched on the banks of the Chamal River in Rajasthan, India. And the photos are something else.
The gharial is a special genus of crocodile native to South Asia and is known for its uniquely thin long toothy snouts. They feed on fish, but newly hatched infants live on a diet of crustaceans, insects, and even frogs.
Once, the species could be found all over South Asia, but now they’re only found in India and Nepal.
A local wildlife photographer, Shivang Mehta happened upon the hatchlings at the perfect moment, witnessing the rare sight of a riverbank literally covered in scaly tails and torsos, protruding snouts and teeth, and green reptilian eyes. So many of them were there, in fact, the 39-year-old photographer from Delhi, India, said the sheer numbers were difficult to capture.
“I did not expect to see an army of young hatchlings that refused to fit in a single frame,” he told Daily Mail. “It was spectacular.”
Mehta captured photographs of hundreds of hatchlings crossing the sand, their snouts pointed high like soldiers performing a salute with their rifles.
“As I approached,” he said, “the shoreline was black as young Gharials stood like tanks in perfect symmetry.”
Eventually, they dipped into the water and began to cut through the waves, searching for food.
The gharial species was drastically impacted by poaching, and the population was nearly cut in half between 1997 and 2006. Since then, it has been protected by the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
Currently, predators are the largest threat to newly hatched gharial crocodiles. However, this year, the local community in Rajasthan monitored the skies for birds of prey and built fences to keep jackals and other predators away from the eggs.
The adult gharial can reach up to 15.5 feet and can weigh as much as 2,200 pounds (approx. 998 kg). It can take four to 10 years for these crocodiles to reach adulthood.
With the current population trending downward for this species, a hatching in such large numbers gives a much-needed spark of hope, and reaffirms the impact local conservation efforts have had.
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