If you’re lucky enough, sometimes you can witness some truly incredible moments in nature. And wildlife photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time in order to photograph a very rare moment in the National Chambal Sanctuary, in India.
His show stopping photo is that of a freshwater gharial, which is a type of fish-eating crocodile, that is swimming through the murky waters with a bunch of its offspring along for the ride on its back. And it’s not just one or two little baby crocs on this gharial’s back – it’s more like dozens!
Even if you’re like me and reptiles sort of freak you out, there is no denying that this is an incredible shot. In fact, the breathtaking photo is actually a favorite in this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.
As Mukherjee explained to BBC News, “This male had mated with seven or eight females, and you can see that it was very much involved.”
According to the photographer, the gharial crocodile is actually pretty shy when compared to other species such as the saltwater and marsh crocodiles. However, it does have the potential to get aggressive, as Mukherjee explained, if he’d gotten too close then it would’ve come after him.
As National Geographic reports, the freshwater gharial is on the critically endangered species list. While there used to be roughly 20,000 freshwater gharials in the wild across the South Asian area, there is estimated to now be less than 1,000 mature ghirals left – the majority of the species, which is 75%, collected in the Uttar Pradesh sanctuary. Because of the construction of dams, along with the destruction of boulders and sand, has meant that the croc’s natural habitat is being shrunk.
These animals are able to grow as large as 12.25ft to 15.5ft in length, and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. The way to differentiate these crocs from others is through their distinguished snout, which is long and has a large “bulb” on the end. Their name is derived from the Hindi word “ghara” which is a round earthenware pot, and apparently looks similar to the gharial’s nose.
According to VT, the senior curator of reptiles at London’s Natural History Museum, Patrick Campbell, explained that the gharial’s snout “enables vocal sounds to be amplified.” Campbell further added that crocs will normally carry their young in their mouths, but because the gharial’s snout is so distinctive, they can’t do this. Hence why the young are forced to cling to their parents’ head or back for protection.
Hopefully this gharial’s offspring all make it to adulthood and help to continue the species.