Friday, July 06, 2007

Ganges dolphins are fighting against extinction

When the Goddess Ganga, according to Hindu mythology, came down to Earth from the skies, the dolphin was amongst the creatures that heralded the descent of the holy river.

Today, the Ganga river dolphin, which was one of the world's first protected species, given special status under the reign of Emperor Ashoka, is crying for its existence.

The Ganga river dolphin is an extremely valuable species for monitoring the aquatic environment. It acts as an indicator of health for the ecosystem of the river system. Being at the top of the food chain, its presence in adequate numbers signifies a rich biodiversity within the river system.
But the IUCN's (World Conservation Union) red list of threatened animals has recently changed the status of this species from vulnerable to endangered.

Concerned over this alarming phenomenon, WWF India is organising a riverboat rally, as part of their "Save the River Dolphin" campaign, from May 7-8 on the Ganga river.

The motorboat rally will start at 9 am from Garhmukteshwar (Ghaziabad district) to Narora (Bulandsahar district). Shweta Nanda, the chief guest, will be flagging off the rally.

The event has already garnered tremendous support and participation from senior environmentalists, scientists, social activists, students of over 40 schools, colleges and universities, army officials, government officials and local communities. As a run up to the campaign, several activities and events for school children have been organised for the past few months.

This boat rally is an effort of WWF-India's Dolphin Conservation Programme to create awareness for conserving this endangered species. These dolphins, which once ranged throughout the Ganga and Brahmaputra river systems, are now dwindling in numbers. Ganges river dolphin (Platanista gangetica) is one of the only four freshwater dolphins in the world.

Dr Parikshit Gautam, Director-Fresh Water & Wetlands Programme, WWF-India says "River dolphins are the 'watchdogs' of the water. The high level of toxic pollutants accumulating in their bodies is a strong indicator of poor water quality and is problem affecting both dolphins and the people dependent on these rivers. Clean water is not only vital for the survival of the river dolphin, but also for the quality of life for millions of the world's poor."

Commenting on the decrease of the Ganges river dolphin, Dr Sandeep Behera, coordinator freshwater secies, WWF-India, says, "Since the turn of the 20th century, the rate, at which the number of dolphins is decreasing, is quite alarming and unfortunate."

No wonder, the population of these dolphins is only 1500-1800 from 4000-5000 in the 1980's (in its entire distribution range), as per WWF India's Status Survey, which adds, "fragmentation of its habitat by barrages and dams, lack of awareness and education of the river's stakeholders, pollution of large stretches in the rivers and killing (for oil and its blubber) are some of the contributing reasons towards its decrease."

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"