There is a silver lining for the critically endangered gharial.
It all started in early 2019 when gharials in Shaheed AHM Kamaruzzaman Central Park and Zoo in Rajshahi laid eggs for the first time in the last 30 years.
Gharials are crocodiles of freshwater. They are distinguishable from other crocodiles by their long and thin jaw. Male gharials are identifiable by their bulbous snout.
South Asian countries had been the key habitats of gharials. The Padma and the Jamuna rivers had been their home for years. Unlike the saltwater crocodiles, their nature is docile. Fish is their staple food. Which is why they are known as fish-eating crocodiles too.
It is assumed that only 200 mature members of this species are alive all over the world. The last time gharials were seen in Bangladesh in the wild was in 1997. That is the reason why gharials laying eggs in the Rajshahi zoo is such great news for the entire world even though the eggs were ruined.
Farhad Uddin, a veterinary surgeon of Shaheed AHM Kamaruzzaman Botanical Garden (a part of Rajshahi City Corporation), has been supervising the gharials. The Business Standard asked him why the eggs ended up being rotten.
"Reptiles are supposed to lay eggs on sand, but our female gharial probably was not prepared. This is why she laid eggs in water and the eggs were ruined," he said.
Farhad said the reason for this mishap is the female gharial's unconsciousness.
He said it was completely normal for the gharial as it was the first time that she laid eggs, and thus could not understand the process.
"Now we have created an artificial sand island inside their cage so that she has no trouble laying eggs next time."
Farhad said how before 2017 there was no scope for mating or laying eggs as both the gharials of the zoo were females.
"They were caught by fishermen in 1976. The authorities rescued them and sent them to the zoo. Since then, they have been here," he said.
In 2015, Farhad took an initiative to exchange one female gharial with Dhaka zoo where there were four male gharials.
He talked to government officials and the International Union for Conservation of Nature about his plans. Sarowar Alam Dipu, the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Bangladesh unit, gave him a hand in this initiative.
At that time, Sarowar was working on a two-year project named "Gharial Conservation Programme" and took gharial breeding initiative in hand.
Farhad and Sarowar surveyed the old habitats and identified seven spots that would be fit for gharial breeding. They turned to zoos and safari parks and concentrated on captive breeding.
Considering the ridiculous male-female ratio in zoos, they started exchange programmes. Finally, male gharial Gorai who is 41-year-old was brought from Dhaka zoo to Rajshahi zoo.
Sarowar said, "We were doubtful about how the gharials would react as they had never been in contact with members of the opposite sex. We were worried whether they would get along or not."
He said it was elating to see Gorai having a nice time with Padma, the 35-year-old female gharial. This made the team positive about the entire programme as gharials can breed until the age of 50. Their usual mating season is from December to March. In April or May, they lay eggs. The eggs takes at least 90 days to hatch.
Sarowar said, "The ultimate plan is to bring them to nature when hatching is completed. It is not very hard to hatch eggs once those are laid."
Sarowar is initiating another project on gharials and is optimistic about bringing the species back from the verge of extinction.
Farhad said another female gharial was exchanged with Dhaka zoo but there was no new significant development as of yet.
"To save this endangered species, personal initiative is not enough. If the government organisations come forward, the process will get easier and we will be able to save many other species from going extinct," he added.