Ganges River Dolphin Conservation Programme
All the River Dolphins around the glob are now become the most threatened aquatic mammals. The river cetaceans have many species and subspecies and Indian Sub-continent represents a few of them. They have typical distribution pattern found 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. In Indian 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 ‘susu’ was throughout the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Meghna, and Karnaphuli river systems of India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Presently these major parts of their distributions are under great pressure. Since last 10 years their ranges reduces and population is declining very fast and the present distribution in India is confined mostly to the Ganges and Brahmaputra river systems. At present there are only a few hundreds of susus are inhabiting Ganges & Brahmaputra. The Indian Wildlife Act 1972 offers protection to the animal by including it in the Schedule-I, but the proper enforcement of the law is yet to grip on it. 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, specially 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 cetaceans. The first ever censes of river dolphin was done by the Foundation (Bairagi et al) 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 – 1) poaching for its oil which claims the major part of the total deaths of the animal, 2) accidental killing(by-catch) through entanglement in gillnets, 3) habitat degradation (siltation of river bed) and 4) depletion of fishery resources causing food scarcity. Poaching for its oil is the major causes of depletion of the animal specially 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 the neighboring state Bihar long back and settled in the lower Assam Districts. The social and economical problems of the “Binn” community were studied and a pilot rehabilitation program for the “Binn” community was also implemented by Sujit P. Bairagi, Dolphin Foundation with financial assistance from Fauna & Flora International, UK in 1997. 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 Asom State Forest Department and to the Central Ministry.
Different agencies providing financial assistance for the Ganges River Dolphin Conservation program are – Ranthambhore Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society, Flora & Fauna International, George Williamson & Co., WWF etc.
Dolphin Conservation activities of the Foundation since the inception :
The first ever technical census of river dolphin in the entire Brahmaputra and its tributaries during 1993.
Regular three yearly status review surveys for doing census and studying the population in Brahmaputra River System and to identify the potential threats of this river cetacean. Three such surveys have already been completed in 1993, 1997 and 2002.
Study of population dynamics in Brahmaputra and its tributaries.
Identification and study of the breeding pocket of river dolphins in Brahmaputra.
Yearly status review study of resident dolphin population in river Kulsi.
Extensive studies on the river dolphin oil bait fishing in Brahmaputra and interventions taken to address the problem.
Rehabilitation program for the fisherman community involved in dolphin oil bait fishing by donation of fishing nets & other fishing crafts to minimize the threat.
Regular awareness program among the fisherman communities and school children for the conservation of the species.
Socio-economic survey in the river bank villages of Kulsi to study their economic of status and extent of their dependence on the resources of Kulsi.
Development of draft Management Plan for conservation of the river Dolphin Population in Kulsi and submission of the same to the State Forest Department.
Future plans of Dolphin Foundation for conservation of Ganges River Dolphins in the northeastern region :-
Extensive research and monitoring of the river dolphin population, especially in the lower Asom Districts bordering Bangladesh.
Identification and study of the breeding pockets in Brahmaputra and to take up necessary interventions for protection.
Conservation awareness programs for all sections of the people throughout the stretches of river Brahmaputra.
Community development through small-scale community development programs / rehabilitation of the “dolphin oil bait fishermen” etc.
Lobbying with the Govt. Departments to enforce and strengthen the existing laws.
To enhance protection to the Kulsi River resident population and lobby with the Govt. to declare the area as Dolphin Sanctuary.
Regular monitoring of the resident population in Kulsi river.