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Been a while, crocodiles: Fort Worth Zoo celebrates four gharial croc hatchlings, the first in its 114-year history

A Fort Worth Zoo worker holds a gharial crocodile hatchling on Aug. 31. Four gharial crocodiles were born from mid-June to mid-July at the Fort Worth Zoo. Gharial crocs are difficult to breed due to genetic match requirements, low fertility rates and vanishing environments. Only one other gharial birth has been recorded in the U.S. — in 2016 at St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park in Florida. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

On June 17, an ectotherm department employee at the Fort Worth Zoo entered the incubation room where over 80 gharial crocodile eggs lay. When she saw the space was disturbed, she thought an egg had exploded.

Instead, she was left speechless at the sight of a tiny croc in the midst of the unhatched eggs.

“She got on the radio and to the entire zoo, she said, ‘Vicky, you’re going to want to get to the nursery right now,’” Vicky Poole, the associate curator of ectotherms at the Fort Worth Zoo, said. “It was ridiculous. I’m a talker and I couldn’t speak. And it was just like tears welled up in my eyes.”

Poole and the ectotherm team, which led a decades-long conservation effort to breed and hatch gharial crocodiles at the Fort Worth Zoo, celebrated the birth of four babies for the first time in the zoo’s history and only the second time nationwide.

A Fort Worth Zoo worker brings out one of four gharial crocodile hatchlings for the public to see Aug. 31. Only 35 adult gharial crocodiles are dispersed across nine institutions in the U.S., Poole said. The last time the crocs successfully bred in the U.S. was seven years ago at St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. Eggs incubate for 70 days, and hatchlings stay with their mothers for several weeks or even months. Since the 1940s, gharial populations have declined as much as 98 percent in their native habitats due to human behaviors such as hunting for traditional medicine and building of freshwater dams. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
A baby gharial crocodile is handled by a Fort Worth Zoo worker. “This is like a white whale for zoos to be able to reproduce this particular species,” Poole said. “Most reptile people are not sports people, but it’s like somebody going on a no-hitter.” Two adult gharial crocodiles laid about 40 eggs each in early spring and of the more than 80 eggs laid, only four hatched — gharials are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and low fertility among eggs is common, according to a press release. Gharials are usually mature enough to mate at 13 years old, but this doesn’t mean they lay eggs yearly, Poole said. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
An adult gharial crocodile swims in its exhibit at the Fort Worth Zoo on Aug. 31. The snout of the gharial is called a “ghara,” an Indian pot. An adult gharial averages 5 to 6 meters in length and females can grow to 3.5 to 4.5 meters, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Poole and her team are most excited to add more gharials to the genetic breeding pool, she said.

“This adds additional animals to our overall breeding population and potential,” Poole said. “A success for one of us is success for all of us and the species.”

Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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