Last weekend Prague Zoo opened a new pavilion for a number of famous new inhabitants: young gavials, a rare species of crocodile from India. Prague Zoo is the only European facility to house the creatures, listed as critically endangered in the wild.
It was back in January that Prague Zoo first saw the arrival of seven young Gavials – three females and four males – from India, the culmination of four years’ effort and extensive negotiations. Now they can be seen by the public. With much fanfare last weekend, the zoo opened the animals’ new pavilion, named Chambal after the Indian River where the rare crocs live. At the opening, the zoo’s director Petr Fejk stressed that the animals, known for their famous reed-like snout, had found a good home in Prague, where specialists hope when the animals mature they will one day be able to reproduce. The zoo’s director, meanwhile, compared the animals’ situation to that of the Przewalski horse 30 years ago, when that species was close to extinction.“The presence of these animals at Prague Zoo is similar to the situation the 1960s when Prague Zoo was one of only two facilities which helped prevent the Przewalski horse from going extinct. Today, the gavial is in a similar situation.”
Ivan Řehák is a reptiles specialist who was one of those instrumental in bringing the rare crocodilians to the Czech capital. He was naturally also present at the opening of the animals’ new pavilion:"Prague Zoo has been extraordinarily active in the protection of gavials over the years. We are a powerhouse when it comes to herpetology, the branch of zoology dealing with reptiles, and we are also respected for our conservation programmes. The fact that India has entrusted us with these animals is the result of many factors as well as Prague Zoo’s reputation as a whole.”
Specialists estimate that today only 200 adult gavials survive in the wild, namely on nature reserves in India and Nepal. Only ten zoos in the world house the rare creatures in captivity - in the US, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Japan.