Mother's little headful
One night, Udayan camped near a nesting colony of gharials on the banks of the Chambal River – two groups of them, each with more than 100 hatchlings. Before daybreak, he hid behind rocks beside the babies. ‘I could hear little grunting sounds,’ says Udayan. ‘A large female surfaced near the shore, checking on her charges. Some of the hatchlings swam to her and climbed onto her head. Perhaps it made them feel safe.’ It turned out that she was the chief female of the group, looking after all the hatchlings. Though he saw more females and a male, they never came close.
Gharials were once found in rivers all over the Indian subcontinent. Today, just 200 or so breeding adults remain in just two per cent of the former range. ‘The Chambal River is the gharial’s last stronghold,’ says Udayan, ‘but is threatened by illegal sand-mining and fishing.’
Canon EOS 550D + 100-400mm lens; 1/400 sec at f13; ISO 1600.
Chambal River, Sheopur, India
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Udayan Rao Pawar, India
Born in Madhya Pradesh, it was the gift of a pair of binoculars that turned Udayan into a naturalist and the gift of a camera that transformed his interest into a passion. Udayan is also passionate about conservation and on his holidays helps field staff working with the Indian gharial, a critically endangered fish-eating crocodile.