Crocodile Dad Gives Over 100 Babies a Ride on His Back

A wildlife photographer was at a wildlife sanctuary in India when he spotted a father crocodile carrying more than 100 babies on his back as he swam across a river.

Wildlife photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee is always on the lookout for never-before-seen photos or images of endangered wildlife, and both of those goals were achieved when he came across the unusual sight of the gharial, an Indian crocodilian, guarding a great swarm of its young. .

“I clarify that I am not an artist,” said Mukherjee PetaPixel via video call from Kolkata, India. “The difference is that the artist works on wildlife to satisfy an artistic ambition or an artistic goal. I use it to achieve my scientific purpose – for conservation.

Find the gharial

The award-winning photographer, who has been in the field for 25 years and is usually away 300 days a year, had visited India’s Chambal National Shrine in June 2017, just under 200 miles southeast of the capital from New Delhi.

The mission was to capture images of the highly endangered gharial, whose maximum population is concentrated in the Chambal River in the sanctuary. Mukherjee had been patrolling for weeks when he stumbled upon the scene one morning.

Mukherjee says the opportunity to take pictures was not the result of pure chance, but rather having good connections with experts in the area.

“I have a very good local network,” he says. “I continue to get information from local people, scientists, naturalists and forest department officials. And it was not my first visit to the area. I’ve been there several times…I keep going. Chambal has the maximum population of gharials at present.

“He was a big mature male, 16-17′, well known [to forest officials] and had mated with 7-8 females. The children you see on his back come from several women.

Crocodiles carry their young in their mouths, but the gharial has a very narrow snout, which makes this impossible. Therefore, newborns must hold on to their heads and backs, which provides both protection and a close parental bond.

The photographer tells us that the gharials, including the males, are very shy and stay away from humans. However, when the male is guarding his young hatchlings, he can be very aggressive and kick if the photographer gets too close to the bank. Many photos of Mukherjee that day were taken with a 70-200mm camera lens from a safe distance.

What is a gharial?

The gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), also known as gharial, is a fish-eating member of the order Crocodilia, found primarily in rivers in India and Nepal. It is among the longest of all living crocodilians reaching lengths of up to 20 feet (6.1 m). The “true” crocodile, alligator, caiman and gharial are all members of this order.

When they reach sexual maturity around the age of 11, male gharials develop a hollow bulbous nasal protuberance at the end of the snout. This protuberance resembles an earthen pot locally called “ghara”, hence the name of the animal. This device allows the male to amplify sounds and emit a hiss that can be heard over 200 feet (61 m).

These prehistoric-looking freshwater beasts probably originated in the Lower Miocene (23 to 16 million years ago) in the region of India and Pakistan.

“The gharial was a critically endangered species. [it still is]“, explains the defender of the environment. “In recent years, their number has increased. Some breeding programs [and rerelease in the wild] took place at Chambal. That is why I have chosen the subject so that it attracts the attention of political decision-makers or those concerned. »

Only about 650 remain (this figure is from 2017 and there has been some increase) in the freshwater rivers of India and Nepal, according to the IUCN Red List.

The gharial population is estimated to have declined from 5,000 to 10,000 in 1946 to less than 250 in 2006, a decline of 96% to 98% in three generations. However, captive breeding and release show hope for the future.

The gharial population has declined due to habitat depletion by dams that disrupt river flow. Sand is mined from river banks, reducing nesting areas and resting sites for thermoregulation. And there is always the risk of getting caught in the fishing nets.

Mukherjee’s journey as a photographer

Mukherjee graduated with a university degree in physics, then went on to complete a postgraduate degree in ecology. However, a 9 to 5 job was not something he could handle, and he worked with his passion for the outdoors to get into photography.

His first camera in 1997 was a Vivitar, but within seven days he had upgraded to a much better Pentax K1000 SLR, a camera often recommended for photography students. He learned the ropes for two years, then moved on to Nikon cameras. It is Sony Explorer since 2019 with the luxury of using Sony Alpha 1, Sony 600mm, other lenses and works.

Photo by Cristobal PG

Mukherjee has been a full-time wildlife photographer, has worked in 40 countries and now manages to support himself through his passion, but he says all 25 years of his career have not been so successful.

“Somehow I survived this [photography]he exclaims proudly. “It was a tough trip. With photography money, I worked all over India. I worked in 40 countries. I do a lot of underwater shooting. I dived under ice in Antarctica, and I’ve dived in Greenland and Iceland, I’ve climbed a volcano in the Congo, I’ve dived with anacondas, crocodiles, sharks and killer whales.

“I don’t see the photos as good or bad, but rather how different they are from the [other photos taken in the] past. My advice to budding photographers is “Do what is not done”. What is done, no one needs to see it again.

The environmental adventurer always shoots in RAW, selects in Adobe Bridge, and his Photoshopping of an image is done “in 40 seconds” as he tries to take better photos in the field.

Mukherjee’s interesting relationship with a snow leopard.

In the United States, gharials are kept at Busch Gardens Tampa, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Fort Worth Zoo, Honolulu Zoo, San Diego Zoo, National Zoological Park, San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium, St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, Bronx Zoo and Los Angeles Zoo.

Mukherjee is happy that his photo of the gavial father doing his parental duties of taking care of the family has created an emotional connection with the viewers. He believes that this kind of exposure and support from people is necessary to bring a species back from extinction.

You can see more of Dhritiman Mukherjee’s work on his website and Instagram.


About the Author: Phil Mistry is a photographer and teacher based in Atlanta, GA. He started one of the first digital camera courses in New York at the International Center of Photography in the 90s. He was director and teacher of Sony/Popular Photography magazine’s Digital Days workshops. You can reach him here.


Picture credits: All photos courtesy of Dhritiman Mukherjee

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