Notable Noses: Meet the Malay Gharial

Visit the Reptile & Amphibian Building to meet our Malay, or False gharial (Tomistoma schlegelii). It is a highly endangered crocodilian that once ranged throughout much of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Borneo, West Java and possibly Vietnam; preferred habitat appears to be tropical swamp forests. Their most distinctive feature is their long, narrow snout which makes them similar in appearance to another crocodilian species, the Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) native to India.

Malay Gharial
Malay Gharial

As adults, Malay gharials can get quite large with males reaching over 5 meters in length while females are smaller. The females build large mound nests and can lay up to 60 large eggs at a time.

Hunting , habitat destruction, and other human pressures have resulted in the extirpation of Malay gharials in Vietnam and Thailand. Malay gharials now occur in only ten river drainage systems in their former historic range. The wild population is estimated to be no more than 2500 or fewer individuals. Malayan gharials are considered to be Critically Endangered by the IUCN and are listed as an endangered species by the United States and are also listed as Appendix I by CITES. The captive population in North America numbers around 40 animals in 14 institutions. Due to their large size and specific habitat requirements, this species has proven to be difficult to maintain and reproduce; there have only been four successful captive breedings in AZA institutions. Because of the small captive population, the AZA has designated the Malay gharial as an SSP red species.

The Houston Zoo has owned a female Malay gharial since 1974. However, due to its large size and our lack of proper facilities for large crocodilians, it has been out on loan since 1981 and currently resides at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans where it is in a breeding situation. Fortunately, though, last October we were able to acquire a three year old animal which had hatched at the San Antonio Zoo. Since it is a juvenile, we will be able to adequately house this animal for the next several years in the Herpetology building, where it is currently on display.

The Malay gharial is located in the Reptile and Amphibian building in a large display along the back wall, directly behind the White alligator exhibit. While you’re in the building, take some extra time to view all the other interesting and colorful species we have on exhibit!

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