World Environment day: Clean the river Ganga or loose Ganga Dolphins!

India is one of the 12 mega diversity countries in the world. Our country has been blessed by approximately 8% of the world’s biodiversity. Thanks to the type of landforms and water bodies which provide our country with such huge biodiversity. But at the same time, our country also ranks in one of those countries which are losing their rich heritage at an alarming rate. The major reason for the extinction of biodiversity and habitat fragmentation is over-exploitation, population, the introduction of invasive species etc.

All over the globe, the biodiversity is facing serious threat because of human activities that are causing loss of natural habitat, polluting and contaminating the water sources and others. In India pink-headed duck, Asian cheetah, hyper dolphin vanished one or other reasons mentioned above. At present Indian Bustard, sarus crane, Asiatic lion, blackbuck, Ganga river dolphin etc. are on the way to meet the same fate. Wild conservation needs constant effort and public awakening; World environment day is one such occasion that needs to be utilized for that. None of the species can be permitted to vanish, but in one article we not highlight the issue of all those species that are vanishing.

The case of Ganga river dolphins stand apart because of two reasons one, it is the national water animal of India and second, its conservation being directly related to Cleaning of river Ganga. Ganga river dolphin was officially discovered in 1801 and is one of the oldest creatures in the world. These dolphins are studied blind and catch their prey by an emitting an ultrasonic sound. Their number that was once in tens of thousands is now less than 2000. The first report commissioned by Wildlife Institute of India at Dehradun under Namami Gange scheme notes that for the decline in their population match results in their extinction. There are several reasons for this decline.

The first and foremost is that Ganga dolphin can only live in freshwater and the Ganga water is no fresher. The river is itself is choking to death because of the pollutants being discharged. Around a hundred cities situated at the bank of river discharge 2953 million litres of sewage daily, of which only 1584 million litres of gets treated, the rest amount just flows into. The second cause is the direct killing, although declining in most areas it is still a major reason. Dolphins are getting killed by the fishermen for their meet and oil, that are a good fish attractant. The third reason is the habitat fragmentation by dams and barrage. The construction of dams and barrage restrict the movement of dolphins rendering them isolated into sub-population

Our country is known as the pioneer of wildlife conservation. As early as in 1972, the Government of India enacted the wildlife protection act and provided legal protection to the Ganga dolphin in schedule 1. Even IUCN in 1996 categorised them as endangered species in Appendix 1 of the convention on the international trade on endangered species of flora and fauna and in the convention on migratory species in Appendix 2. Conservation action plan has also been prepared for the Ganga river dolphin which includes capacity building protection and Restoration of habitats, conducting of periodic status surveys and monitoring, providing education awareness, the rescue and rehabilitation on identified thrust area.

If the trend continues, very soon, Ganga river dolphins will meet the fate same of China’s Yangtze River dolphin that is now extinct. The major reasons we are not successful in Ganga river dolphins’ conservation is our slow speed of cleaning the river and lack of public awareness. There is no doubt that the government is committed and the actions are being taken, but the desired result is still far away. The only thing we can say at the moment is that with the new team at the centre we can hope for the best and wait for the results.

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