Gavials are large semi-aquatic reptiles belonging to the family Gavialidae.They are crocodilians and look very similar to crocodiles but has a more narrow elongated snout used to catch fish. There are only two now living species of gavials: the Gavial or Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) and the False gavial or False gharial (Tomistoma schlegelii).

The name false gavial has its root in the fact that the animal long was classified as a crocodile although looking like a gavial, hence False gavial. More recent studies have shown it to be more closely related to the Gavial than to crocodiles leading to the species being moved to the family Gavialidae, which naturally makes the name False gavial seem a little strange.

Gavialis gangeticus is found on the Indian subcontinent ranging from Pakistan to Myanmar and Bangladesh but might be extinct in a large part of that area. This species is the second longest of all crocodilians. Tomistoma schlegelii lives on the Malay peninsula and can be found in Sumatra, Malaysia, Borneo, Java, Vietnam and Thailand although no specimen have been seen in Thailand since 1970. Records show that this species used to live all the way up into southern China.

Gavials can grow very long and there are numerous recorded gavials exceeding 6 m / 20 feet in length and a weighing over 1000 kg / 2200 lbs. However, these gigantic specimens are rare and most Gavials never reach this size. The False gavial grows a somewhat smaller and matures at around 2-3 m / 7-10 ft.

Both species are endangered even though the situation is a bit worse for the true Gavial. The main treats against the False gavial is draining of wetlands and deforestation of the surrounding rainforests. The species are also hunted for meat and the eggs are harvested to eat as well. Conservation efforts are being made in Indonesia and Malaysia to preserve the species. 

The true Gavial was at the brink of extinction in the 1970 when it gained full protection and is still in bad shape. It is believed to be less then 400 breeding pairs left in the wild, with the vast majority of them living in nine protected areas in India. The main hope for the species now lies in a program that includes both the breeding of gavials in captivity and the harvesting of wild eggs to raise the young in captivity to reduce mortality before reintroducing them to the wild. These programs have had less success then expected and even though more than 3,000 gavials have been released the population is estimated at a mere 1,500 animals. The reason for the poor result is not known but might be linked to heavy metals in the water. In 2007, the species was reclassified from endangered to critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Both species of gavials lay eggs in mounds created by the female. True Gavials have their breeding season in March to May. It is unknown when the False gavial has its breeding period. Both species lay 30-60 eggs although a somewhat smaller number of 30-50 is more common in the True gavial. The eggs hatch after roughly 90 days. The False gavial abandons the nest once the eggs are laid and offer no parental care. The True gavial protects the eggs as well as the young during their first days. Unlike many other crocodilians, it will not carry its young ones to the water.

Gavials and False gavials eat mainly fish. Juveniles eat insects, larvae and small frogs as well. They are not a treat to humans and are not capable of hunting larger animals due to the construction of their jaws.


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