Ganges River Dolphin Conservation Programme
All most all River Dolphins around the globe have now been listed as the most threatened aquatic mammals. The River Dolphins has many subspecies and Indian Sub-continent represents a few, they are distributed in some of the important river systems of southern Asia. Among them the Ganges River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica) inhabits in some major rivers of India sub-continent. These dolphins are distributed from the foot of Himalayas to the limits of tidal water of India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. The historical distribution of Ganges River Dolphins or ‘Xihu’ was throughout the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Meghna, and Karnaphuli river systems of India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Since last couple of decades their range has reduced and population is declining very fast and the present habitat in India is confined mostly to the Ganges and Brahmaputra river systems. At present there are only a few hundreds of xihu are inhabiting Ganges & Brahmaputra. Under the Indian Wildlife Act 1972 protection is provided to the animal by including it in the Schedule-I, but the proper enforcement of the law is yet to be implemented. IUCN in 1996 has again revised the status of this animal and listed it as one of the most endangered aquatic mammals of the world.
Established in 1992, Dolphin Foundation has special aim to work for the conservation of Ganges river dolphins in the region, especially in the Brahmaputra and Barak River Systems in the State of Assam. Foundation has been the sole organization in the region working on the conservation of river animals. The first ever censes of river dolphin was done by the Foundation in Brahmaputra during 1993 and at the same time the river dolphin census methodology in Brahmaputra river system was standardized. All together three censuses (three yearly) were carried out by Dolphin Foundation with assistance from various agencies. They were 1993, 1997 and 2002, besides several conservation projects were undertaken to address the potential threats, and to develop the conservation action plan. Community development and awareness are the major programs, which are being regularly carried out in the concerned fishermen villages in the areas of dolphin importance.
The studies carried out so far by the Foundation showed that Ganges river dolphin survival in Brahmaputra is largely threatened by –
- Poaching for its oil which claims the major part of the total deaths of the animal,
- Accidental killing (by-catch) through entanglement in gillnets,
- Habitat degradation (siltation of river bed) ,
- Depletion of fishery resources causing food scarcity.
Poaching for its oil is the major causes of depletion of the animal especially in the lower stretches of Brahmaputra. The oil of river dolphins is used as effective bait to catch some species of catfishes. In River Brahmaputra the fishermen involved in dolphin oil bait fishing belong to a migrant community called “Binn”, who migrated from state of Bihar long back and settled in the lower Assam Districts. Small pocket residential populations of Ganges River Dolphin have been given a good deal attention. Dolphin Foundation has been studying and monitoring the residential population in Kulsi since the inception of the Foundation. Socio-economic surveys were also carried out in the river bank villages of Kulsi to study their dependence on the river resources. Based on the studies carried out by the foundation a Management Plan for long term conservation of the residential population in Kulsi has already been developed and submitted to the Assam State Forest Department and to the Central Ministry. As a fallout of the conservation efforts the river dolphins have found a small protected area near the village of Kukurmara. The local populations have taken the onus of protecting the river animals and its habitat. They have stated village tourism projects taking wildlife enthusiasts on boat rides on river Kulsi for Dolphin sighting, followed by a traditional lunch in one of the village homes. At present there are between 25 to 20 aquatic mammals in the Kulsi River, fighting an almost lost battle against the industrialization and mining.