Sunday, May 25, 2008

River dolphin stoned to death by villagers

Lucknow, May 8: A dolphin couple fleeing the Ganga’s filthy waters got stuck in a shallow, muddy canal where the male was stoned to death by villagers this morning.

Wildlife officials said the endangered Gangetic dolphins, of whom only 2,000 survive, had strayed into the Sharda canal, about 35km from here. The male was found dead with its snout fractured while the female was missing till this evening.

“A villager in Samshi, Mohammad Basheer, was trying to carry away the dead dolphin with help from others around 10 this morning when he was detained and questioned. He said he found the dolphin stuck in the canal’s one-and-a-half-foot-deep waters,” assistant conservator of forests M.P. Singh said.

The dolphin was unusually big. It was 1.53 metres (five feet) long with a 35cm snout and 27cm tail, and weighed 80kg.

“The body bears marks of stoning but the animal would have died of pollution anyway,” said Utkarsh Shukla, a veterinary surgeon who carried out the post-mortem at Lucknow zoo.

“Just when it was struggling to get out of the canal’s muddy waters, the frenzied villagers may have hastened its death.”

The villagers say they saw a second dolphin as well. A hunt is on for the animal. “We think it was a female,” Shukla said.

Divisional forest officer B.N. Singh said the dolphins were probably trying to escape the Ganga’s muddy Allahabad-Varanasi-Kanpur stretch.

They may have swum into the Ghagra, a shallow and equally filthy tributary, and then into the Sharda canal. Else, they may have strayed from the clear waters of the Gerua into the polluted Ghagra.

The Gerua, which flows through the Katarnighat sanctuary on the India-Nepal border near Bahraich, 135km from here, is home to many dolphins and other aquatic species.

Dolphins are drawn to humans, so they are easy prey for villagers. The latest killing comes at a time the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is shooting a film on Gangetic dolphins at Katarnighat to spread awareness among villagers. Amitabh Bachchan’s daughter Shweta Nanda has participated in the film, being made by the South Africa-based organisation, Back to Back.

Of the surviving 2,000 Gangetic dolphins, about 700 are found in the Ganga and its tributaries in Uttar Pradesh. In both Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the animals are mercilessly killed whenever they stray into smaller rivers, which they are doing increasingly because of rising pollution in the Ganga.
Rarely, however, they are luckier. In January last year, a dolphin got trapped in a rivulet in Haidergarh, about 40km from Lucknow, but was rescued by forest officials who were tipped off in time.

Pollution is killing dolphins also in the river Chambal in Etawah district, where a survey found that their number had fallen from 65 to 45.

The Ganga is thick with untreated sewage, human remains, chemicals and disease-causing microbes. A cleansing programme, called the Ganga Action Plan, has been going on since 1985 but environmentalists say it has been a disaster. Crores have been spent under the project but the river-water quality has worsened in some places.

Tim Ford and Steve Hamner, microbiology researchers from America’s Montana State University, have called the Ganga “a soup of pollution” in a recent study. Their report has been handed to the Supreme Court, which is considering anti-pollution measures.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"