Gharial deaths traced to Chambal fish toxin

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT in Lucknow
  • Published 4.05.08
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Lucknow, May 4: A WWF report has concluded that 100 gharials died in the Chambal river because of a toxin in a type of fish that the animals consumed.

The report submitted to the Uttar Pradesh government yesterday said the toxin was found in the tilapia fish, also consumed by people in Bengal and other states in the east.

The reptiles died in three districts in south-western Uttar Pradesh and two districts of Madhya Pradesh — the Chambal wildlife sanctuary spans both states and the river, too, criss-crosses them.

“We have received a report submitted by the WWF that says a toxin found in an African fish, tilapia, which is now bred in India, had caused the deaths as the gharials ate them,” D.N.S. Suman, the chief wildlife warden in the Uttar Pradesh government’s forest department, said.

“The toxin was found in the dead gharials. It does not affect the fish as it is deposited above a layer of fat just below the skin…. This toxin had resulted in kidney failure of the gharials,” Suman said.

But he wondered how the fish came to be in the sanctuary. Originally from Africa, the fish has become an important aquaculture variety.

The fish is generally bred in large farms for consumption in Bengal, Tripura, Jharkhand and Bihar. If not cooked properly, the tilapia can make humans ill too.

At least a hundred gharials have died since December last year in the Chambal river. The last death was reported on April 2.

Several international experts visited Uttar Pradesh to probe why the gharials, a highly endangered species in India, were dying suddenly.

The scientists had earlier said the reptiles died of kidney failure, but were unable to identify what caused it.