Another Rare Species, Another Disease Killing Them Off


What is killing India's endangered gharials? 17 of the critically endangered crocodile-like critters have been found dead in the Chambal River in recent weeks, a terrible blow to a species whose population boasts just 200 breeding pairs.

Whatever killed the gharials -- most likely a "bacterial disease," according to wildlife conservator V K Pattnaik -- wreaked havoc on their liver and lungs. And the 17 found bodies may not be the only ones affected. According to the news agency UNI, unofficial death tallies could be in the dozens over the last week alone.

According to the IUCN Red List, gharial populations plummeted from as high as 10,000 in 1946 to just 200 in 1974, mostly due to hunting for their skins. Current threats are mostly habitat-related, with irrigation, sand-mining and commercial river traffic destroying the gharial's river home.

The IUCN downgraded the gharial from "endangered" to "critically endangered" earlier this year. At this rate, it may not be long before it is downgraded again -- if not lost forever.

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