Skip to Main Content
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance logo
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library logo

Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) Fact Sheet: Population & Conservation Status

Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus)

Population Status

Population estimates

Previous conservation estimates

  • 1940s: estimated 5,000-10,000 (Whitaker et al. 1974)
  • Mid-1970s: almost hunted to extinction
    • A survey conducted in 1973-1974 concluded that only 50-60 individuals survived in India and a handful in Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
  • 2006-2007: Around 200-250 adult gharials in the wild, spread across fragmented habitats (Choudhury et al. 2007; Chowfin and Leslie 2014)
  • Other previous estimates given by Ross (1998); also see Whitaker (1975) Whitaker & Whitaker (2003).
    • Also see Distribution

Conservation Status



Other designations

  • India: Wildlife Protection Act
  • Nepal: National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973

History of conservation efforts

  • 1970s: Active effort initiated to avoid extinction
    • Numerous sanctuaries created.
    • 1972: Indian Wildlife Protection Act; prohibited hunting.
    • Active management programs began in 1975 in India, and 1978 in Nepal.
      • Rearing under managed care: Collect and incubate eggs; hand-rear hatchlings in managaed care until they are big enough to avoid predation; release back into the wild.
    • Some 3,000 gharials released into wild beginning in 1981 in India; 1500 adults subsequently estimated, with 200 in Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh (Whitaker 2007)
  • Present: Although conservation efforts initially were successful, populations quickly plumeted and were not self-sustained; they are in very serious decline
  • Gharial decline follows the decline of other riverine taxa now endangered or nearly extinct including the Ganges River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica) and the Mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) as well as many waterfowl and fish species. (Choudhury et al 2007)

Threats to Survival

  • Poaching: for skin and meat; also for male's nasal knob (to be used as an aphrodisiac).
  • Habitat destructionand competition due to rapidly growing human population
    • Hydroelectric dams, sand mining of river banks, irrigation canals, riparian agriculture
  • Pollution
  • Heavy commercial net-fishing removes food source, blocks access to parts of the rivers, and entangles gharials.
  • Threats to eggs
    • Humans
    • Rats
    • Jackals
    • Wild pigs
    • Mongooses
    • Monitor Lizards
    • Monsoonal flooding

Hope for a Beautiful, Unique Reptile?

Gharial, as seen from the front

Despite past conservation successes, this one-of-a-kind reptile is dangerously close to extinction.

A mere 200 mature, wild gharials remain in two countries. Protecting more gharial habitat is key to reestablishing connections among today's small, isolated populations in India and Nepal.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Bustard (1980b)
Choudhury (1998)
Choudhury et al. (2007)
Ross (1998)
Whitaker & Basu (1982)
Whitaker (1975)
Whitaker (2007)
Whitaker & Whitaker (2003)

SDZWA Library Links