Conservation:  Even as 15 juvenile gharials (gavialis gengeticus) and eight adult crocodiles are being relocated to Jigmeling in Gelephu, the Gharial Conservation Centre (GCC) in Phuentsholing remains a tourist hotspot.

Although November is the peak season for visitors from across the border, at least 80 people, both local and tourists came to see the endangered species at the centre yesterday.

Nitesh Prasad had come all the way from Hashimara, India with his family.

“Although I have been here before, this is the first time I have brought my family along,” he said. “I clearly remember the last time I came here. That was three years ago.”

Nitesh Prasad said the gharial is an interesting animal to observe. It is a fish-eating crocodile that can grow up to six metres, is considered one of the largest and longest crocodilian species in the world. Native to the northern part of the Indian Subcontinent, gharial is also considered a critically endangered species.

Visitors come and go, though, with little knowledge of the reptile. Many mistake them for the common crocodile. A Class XII Assamese student of a missionary school in Falakatta, thought gharials were alligators. “We did not know the fact,” she said, “There should be someone at the centre to tell us about these reptiles, or maybe even a signboard with a bit of explanation.”

A group of women from Chennai, South India, returned looking gravely unsatisfied. They said the Nu 20 entry fee was “a waste”.

Local visitors take pictures of the reptile, but few know about them.

With most of the residents of the centre relocated to Jigmeling, the 36-decimal centre with six ponds has become spacious for both gharials and crocodiles.

The reptiles were brought from Nepal in 1976. Since then, they have remained there. Relocation to a 15-acre reserve and rehabilitation centre in Jigmeling is a much-awaited project and it has been in the plan since 2008.

The gharial population globally has drastically decreased over the last seven decades. As per reports, there are only about 250 gharials in the world today.

The centre near the Norgay godown area has 14 gharials and four crocodiles.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing