Where the weird things are: The gharial - a croc with a knobbly nose
Saturday 29 January 2011
This bizarre crocodilian from northern India, is hardly the killer that Mr Dundee brags about. Granted, it looks the real deal: big tail, knobbly back, the works. But those skinny jaws are like some Toy Story nightmare – as though an evil child has replaced the head with pliers.
The word gharial comes from the Hindi gharra, meaning "mud pot", and refers to the swollen lump on the tip of a male's snout. This is thought to have a sexual function: either as a visual come-on, a resonator for courtship calls, or to boost its bubble-blowing seduction display.
Gharials pose no threat to people: those slimline jaws are not up to biting chunks off you. But they're adept at grabbing fish underwater, using a quick sideways swipe and snap. And the 100 or so needle-like teeth ensure that no catch slips back out. This is a big beast, sometimes topping six metres. It's also the most aquatic of crocs, seldom moving further from the river than the nearest sandbank. Underwater, its powerful tail propels it at a fair lick.
Females bury their 30–35 eggs in sand. Their teeth are too sharp for carrying hatchlings but they will guard their brood for a few days.
These reptiles have every reason to dread us. Brought to the brink of extinction in 1973 by persecution and habitat loss, the species owes its survival to a conservation programme.
Today around 1,500 are thought to remain in northern India, with a few scattered across neighbouring Nepal and Bangladesh. Reliable spots include India's Corbett National Park and National Chambal Sanctuary, and Nepal's Chitwan National Park.
* Responsibletravel.com (01273 600 030; responsibletravel.com) offers a 10-day safari to Corbett National Park, where you can see gharials along the Ramganga River, from £2,650 per person sharing, excluding flights.
Mike Unwin is the author of 100 Bizarre Animals, published by Bradt Travel Guides (£16.99). Independent readers can purchase the book for only £11.50 including UK p&p via www.bradt-guides.com. Enter coupon code "mudskipper" at the checkout.
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