Osaka Gavial

Extinction in the Wild:About 370.000 years ago
  • Osaka Gavial
  • Osaka Gavial

Sensation: A Japanese national treasure in our LOST ZOO ‒ For the first time in zoo history an "Osaka Gavial" is kept in a zoo

Skeletal specimen of Osaka Gavial Inter Media Theque

Skeletal specimen of "Osaka Gavial" @ Inter Media Theque
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Skeletal specimen of Osaka Gavial Museum of Osaka University

Skeletal specimen of "Osaka Gavial" @ Museum of Osaka University
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Crocodiles have had prominent roles in the myths and legends of various cultures around the world and have even inspired stories of dragons. As visitors' reptile favorite, crocodiles are also today very famous zoo animals and an absolutely must for larger terrariums. The visitors are always fascinated by the sudden and rapid reactions of these carnivorous and stalk-and-ambush predators.
Their diet varies and depends on the shape of the snout and the sharp teeth.There are two different types: First, the 15 species of crocodiles and 8 species of alligators, who have a broad skull and snout. They hunt mammals, birds and reptiles. Whereas the second type, the both fish- eating gavial species have a very long, narrow snout and sharp teeth. The False Gavial (Tomistoma schlegelii ) belonged in the past to the true crocodiles because of some other skeletal indices. But today' s recent genetic analysis showed a closer relationship between the False Gavial and the Indian Gavial and that the False Gavial is less related to the crocodiles and to the alligators and caimans.

False gavial which has the same origin as Osaka Gavial Okinawa Zoo

False gavial which has the same origin as "Osaka Gavial" @ Okinawa Zoo
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Typically, crocodiles are creatures of the tropics. The only exceptions are the American and Chinese alligators. Their habitats are subtropical and extend as far north as the south-eastern United States and the Yangtze River in China. Nevertheless in former time saurian and true crocodiles of the gavial type were found also in countries and areas, where they can' t exist today, like in Europe the genus Belodon, which lived 200 million years ago, or in Japan, where a real gavial species (Toyotamaphimeia machikanensis ) lived only 450.000 years ago.Such exotic, today non existing animals fascinate the people, when skeletons or bones of these extinct species are found. It is hard to imagine that in former times crocodiles could be found in these countries too. Therefore it is not surprising that a real hype started, when at the end of the 19th century the first skeleton of a Belodon kapfii ‒ a phytosaur, whose appearance and habits resemble the gavial type crocodiles - was found in Southern Germany. When the Berlin Aquarium was built in 1913, it therefore decided spontaneously to show as pictures on the façade all the ancestors of the animals, which are kept alive in the new aquarium. This is to indicate their relationship and to document the evolution. Until today a large half-relief of a Belodon can be seen on the façade of the Berlin Aquarium.

Drawn Belodon in the 1800s Sculpture of Belodon that decorates the walls of the Berlin Zoo/Aquarium

Drawn Belodon in the 1800s
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Sculpture of Belodon that decorates the walls of the Berlin Zoo/Aquarium (Click to view larger image).

With the advanced and rapid communications today, the fascination and excitement under scientists and in the general public was even larger, when a perfect complete gavial skeleton was excavated in Osaka in 1965. This skeleton was found accidentally during the construction of a new campus for the Osaka University in a 450.000 years old layer of clay. Besides this was the first fossil skeleton of a crocodile found in Japan. The skeleton showed such a close relationship to the False Gavial that it was described as another species of the same genus Tomistoma , namely as Tomistoma machikanensis . With a total length of about 7m and a skull length of 1m it was larger than the modern False Gavial. Like this Indonesian gavial species, it had a relatively narrow snout suitable for snapping fish, though not so specialized as that of the gavial. After several detailed examinations it was clear that the fossil Gavial is indeed closely related to the False Gavial, but nevertheless shows also many differences to this still existing species. Therefore the new genus Toyotamaphimeia was created. Another 40 years after the exploration of this Toyotamaphimeia skeleton, the species was re-described again and a new phylogenetic analysis was conducted.It could be shown that Toyotamaphimeia is a sister taxon to the False Gavial.Besides it became clear that the gavials originated in Europe and that the still existing False Gavial as well as the extinct "Osaka Gavial" (Toyotamaphimeia machikanensis ) dispersed into East Asia more than 450.000 years ago. In June of 2014 the skeleton of Toyotamaphimeia machikanensis , which was found in Osaka, was declared as a Japanese national treasure and the Osaka University organized many events in 2014 to honour the 50th anniversary of the skeleton' s discovery.

Osaka Gavial designed for playground equipments for kids/Osaka prefectural children's museum Big Bang Osaka gavial designed for playground equipments for kids/Osaka prefectural children's museum Big Bang

"Osaka Gavial" designed for playground equipments for kids/Osaka prefectural children's museum "Big Bang"
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Osaka Gavial on a design of manhole cover in Toyonaka city,Osaka Osaka University official mascot Dr. crocodile

"Osaka Gavial" on a design of manhole cover in Toyonaka city,Osaka
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Osaka University official mascot "Dr. crocodile"
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Our Lost Zoo is very proud to present on the occasion of the 50th anniversary an "Osaka Gavial" in its collection. This will be the first time that this rare and endemic Japanese reptile species can be seen in a zoo. It will be exhibited in the Lost Zoo' s Japanese corner. Definitely it will have a large enclosure with sand banks for sunbathing and with a large, deep and heated water pool for swimming and for mating behaviour.

Osaka Gavial enclosure in LOST ZOO<

"Osaka Gavial" enclosure in LOST ZOO
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Executive Curator
JURGEN LANGE

Osaka Gavial

The Osaka Gavial (Toyotamaphimeia machikanense ) is a very large crocodile and a close relative to the False Gavial (Tomistoma schlegelii ) in Indonesia. It is the first crocodile found in Japan.

Body length : Up to about 8m, with a skull length of 1m.

Body weight : Approximately more than 400kg. Like for all gavials, Osaka Gavial males are probably larger and heavier than females.

Habitat : Lakes and rivers in the tropical rain forest and swamp area around Osaka, Japan.

Extinction in the Wild : About 370.000 years ago

Animal Exhibition
Osaka Gavial