Thursday, September 08, 2005

River dolphins dying at a dangerous pace!

Dibrugarh, Sept. 6: Picture this: the gentlest of animals trapped in nets laid for fishing, unable to surface for air and dying a slow, painful death.

The first-ever survey on river dolphins in Assam has thrown up disturbing facts — just about 240 of the mammals remain in the state, which once had thousands of them.

Conservationist Abdul Wakid conducted the comprehensive 10-month survey in the dolphin-breeding spots of the state under a project funded by British Petroleum. Armed with the data, he has now forced the forest department to act to save the dolphins.

Wakid has himself formed five monitoring groups with 15 to 20 members each for the last remaining dolphin sanctuaries at Saikhowa and Guijan in Tinsukia district, Janjimukh and Dikhowmukh in Sivasagar district and Neematighat in Jorhat district.

Though an aquatic mammal, dolphins need to come to the surface to breathe.

“During our field study, which began at Tengapanighat near the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border and ended on the Indo-Bangladesh border, we found that ‘bi-catch’ is the major threat to dolphins. This needs to be addressed immediately or there may not be any dolphins left within the next four to five years,” Wakid, 30, said.

Bi-catch is a term used globally to define situations when aquatic creatures get caught in big fishing nets not meant for them. “Dolphins cannot stay under water for long and need to come up for fresh air. Fishing nets are giving them a cruel death,” he said.

The conservationist has joined hands with the NGO Aaranyak to launch a comprehensive save-the-dolphin campaign. “We are working on how to go about the mission,” he said.

Fishing nets are not the dolphin’s only enemy. The species is also killed for its meat and fat.
Alarmed by the data collected by Wakid, the forest department has finally taken a few steps to save the dolphin. “We have already restricted the passage of mechanised boats through the river system within the Dibru Saikhowa National Park,” said Aniruddha Dey, divisional forest officer (wildlife) of Tinsukia.

Apart from the Brahmaputra, dolphins have been spotted in the Kulsi, Jhanji, Dibru and Subansiri rivers.


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