Indian crocodiles "video blog" for survival

Mon Nov 9, 2009 6:06am EST
 
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LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) - Call it video blogging for reptiles: conservationists are attaching cameras to the critically endangered Indian gharial, a crocodile-like creature, to understand more about its life in a bid to save it.

Only about 1,000 gharials, who have a characteristically narrow snout, are believed to live in the wild in India's Chambal and Yamuna rivers. The species is almost extinct in several other neighboring nations, including Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

In an attempt to better understand the reptiles' habitat and life cycle, scientists at the Gharial Conservation Park in Lucknow are using small video cameras for "bio-logging."

The lightweight cameras are attached to gharials that are released into the wild, where they record pictures every four seconds and monitor movement and behavior.

"It can record diving depths, swimming speed and also the frequency of the movement," said Katyufoomi Sato, associate professor at Tokyo University whose team developed the camera.

"Once we release the gharials into the wild, they go into the water so after that we cannot observe their behavior. But if we deploy this instrument, we can understand their underwater behavior, and their surrounding microhabitat," he added.

The camera remains attached to the gharial's head for four hours before automatically detaching itself. Wardens at the conservation park then collect the device and the data is transferred to a computer for in-depth analysis.

If the project, which is being conducted with the help of the WWF wildlife fund, yields positive results, conservationists plan to release more gharials with cameras into the wild, and the time the device will remain attached to the reptile will also increase to 48 hours.

According to the Gharial Conservation Alliance, illegal fishing, pollution and habitat destruction are the biggest threats to the reptiles which were also historically hunted for their skin and teeth and for use in medicines.

(Reporting by Reuters Television, Editing by Miral Fahmy)

 
<p>A Gharial crocodile rests besides a pond at his enclosure at a crocodile centre in the northern Indian city of Lucknow August 23, 2007. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar</p>