No succour for vanishing Ganges river dolphins

from India E-news
Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

Patna - In a setback to conservation efforts, a new survey has revealed that the population of the Ganges river dolphins is steadily falling in Bihar, the numbers declining by over 100 since last year.

According to the survey undertaken in early June by researchers from Patna University led by R.K. Sinha, who heads New Delhi’s dolphin conservation project, 560 of the endangered mammals were sighted as compared to 664 last year.

The study was conducted in a 506-km stretch of the Ganges between the Buxar and Manihari ghats where the highest densities of Ganges river dolphins have been observed.

A more disturbing fact: dolphin numbers have also dipped from 95 last year to 83 this year in the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary in Bhagalpur district, one of the four freshwater dolphin sanctuaries in the world.

‘This fact came to light during the survey,’ a researcher who took part in the survey said.

The finding is a major setback to efforts for dolphin conservation in the state. Experts have time and again warned that increasing pollution and unchecked poaching are killing the mammals.

About six dolphins were found dead between March and April this year in the Vikramshila sanctuary. The sanctuary is spread over a 50-km area and was set up nearly a decade ago on the Ganges at Kahalgaon.

The rapidly shrinking Ganges and the river’s changing course were threatening the dolphins, said Sinha, head of the zoology department at Patna University. He called for urgent steps to clean up the river.

Untreated sewage, rotting carcasses and industrial effluents that find their way into the Ganges during its 2,500-km journey across several states from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal had also affected the dolphins, he said.

According to researchers, in the 1980s, the Gangetic delta zone had around 3,500 dolphins. Their population is now estimated to be about 1,500.

Wildlife experts say that most dolphins die after getting entangled in fishing nets. The mammals are also killed for their meat, skin and oil.

Activists blame the Bihar government’s apathy for the threat faced by the mammals.

‘On paper conservation work is going on but in reality the sanctuary has no formal conservation plan. Unless local people are involved in conservation and awareness is created, dolphins will continue to be targeted,’ warned Sunil Choudhary, a wildlife expert.

The freshwater dolphins - locally known as ’sons of the river’ - were listed as an endangered species by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) in 1996.

The Ganges river dolphins are among the four freshwater dolphins in the world - the other three are found in the Yangtze river in China, in the Indus in Pakistan and in the Amazon river in South America.