Gharial: Living Dinosaurs and Plastic Bottles in Chitwan National Park

A Gharial sunbathes in the late afternoon. not caring for our canoe.

A Gharial sunbathes in the late afternoon in Chitwan National Park in Nepal. All Photos: Kashish Das Shrestha

It’s a hot mid-March afternoon as our canoe, carved out of a kapok tree, glides on a cool river through Chitwan National Park, a World Heritage Site. As hoped, we happen upon a Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), an endangered cold-blooded reptile currently in its breeding season, sunbathing motionlessly on one side of the riverbank. These “Living Dinosaurs” are “officially extinct from everywhere except a few small isolated populations in India and Nepal.” Chitwan is home to 81 of the estimated 102 Gharials in Nepal.

Around another bend, a crocodile, with its open eyes just above the water line. Kingfishers and doves fly by. A herd of deer, out for a drink, run back into the forest as we approach. Not too far off, an elephant, with its Mahut perched on its back, is less bothered by the canoe or its passengers. “Chances of seeing tigers and rhinos are higher in the morning though,” the young guide assigned for the ride explained.

Even the wild Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) that swarmed around and raced past the canoe, or huddled together creating an impression of a floating green carpet, made for simple pleasures of seeing nature at work.

All of this punctuated by one recurring heart-sinking sight: plastic water bottles.

While I am working on a longer policy proposal on this and other sustainability issues for the tourism industry in the Park, here are a few photos I took during the canoe ride.

It is tragic irony that today, in Chitwan National Park, the endangered Gharials that have been around since the “time of dinosaurs 100 million years ago” have to share their rivers with the common plastic water bottle. One should outlast the other, and I’m voting for the Gharials.

A submerged crocodile at the Chitwan National Park.

A submerged crocodile.

A submerged plastic bottle in the Chitwan National Park.

A submerged plastic bottle.

Wild flowers blossom on a floating flower bed.

Water Hyacinths blossom on a floating flower bed.

An empty plastic water bottle on a floating flower bed.

An empty plastic water bottle on another floating flower bed.

 

In a natural state.

A natural state.

An unnatural state. How will the plastic pollution reflect on Chitwan National Park's work, and the tourism sector that is supposed to help promote and conserve it? Here, a water bottle, with a Coke bottle in the background.

An unnatural state: How will plastic pollution reflect on Chitwan National Park’s work, and the tourism sector that is supposed to help promote and conserve it? Here, a water bottle, with a Coke bottle in the background.

Related Links:

Rescuing the endangered crocodile: What WWF is doing for Gharials in Nepal.

Gharial Egg Laying Season Is Here: A report (Republica national daily) on the on-going Gharial mating season and the efforts to captive breed the reptiles.

Chitwan National Park – Environment: A nice write up on fire, monsoon, and the ecology and cultures of the area.

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