Rooting For A Reptile Romance At Singapore Zoo

Keepers relocate female false gharial to meet potential mate

It took the strength of more than 10 keepers at the Singapore Zoo to move a 3 metre long false gharial from her Bornean Marsh home early this month.

The 160kg reptile that has resided in the Zoo for the past 10 years was relocated to another exhibit because she was being bullied by a larger female. To keep the two females apart, keepers decided to move her to the Treetops Trail exhibit which is home to a 5m long, 600kg male. They hope the two massive crocodilians will take a liking to each other, and start breeding.

By introducing these potential mates, we hope to diversify the gene pool and increase our numbers. Not much is known about the biology of this species in the wild. Currently, the estimated wild population is fewer than 2,500 individuals, so captive breeding could play a vital role in the recovery of this species said Mr Subash Chandran, Curator, Singapore Zoo. Currently, Singapore Zoo houses 11 false gharials.

The false gharial or tomistoma, is a unique crocodilian that shares features with both the Indian gharial and other crocodile species, including the saltwater crocodile. These reptiles have slightly thicker snouts compared to the Indian gharial, whose thin snout helps it catch fish underwater. Unlike the Indian gharial which feeds exclusively on fish, the false gharial also preys on small mammals such as monkeys and fruit bats. The false gharial is one of the largest crocodile species, reaching lengths of 5-6 metres and it also produces the largest eggs of any crocodile species.

Throughout zoos around the world, there has been little success with the captive breeding of false gharials. Following efforts to breed this species at the Singapore Zoo in recent years, mating of these unique crocodiles and egg laying by the females has been observed. However, the Zoo has yet to successfully hatch a baby false gharial.

The false gharial has a low population density and is classified as an endangered species. Once widely distributed in Indonesia, Malaysia and possibly Thailand, this species has declined throughout its range. Small remnant populations remain in Java and Peninsular Malaysia and there are low densities of the species in Sarawak, Sumatra and Kalimantan. The false gharial is now extinct in Thailand.

While the main threat to this species is habitat destruction, intensive hunting in some areas has also contributed to its decline. Other threats come from fishing practices, with false gharials either becoming tangled in fishing nets or losing their food source to local fisherman.