Dolphins go the tiger way

Updated: Aug 14 2005, 06:14am hrs
Even at a time when environmentalists are voicing concern about the dwindling population of tigers in India, another mammal is also facing a similar threat. The freshwater dolphin population has shrunk to one-third its size: from a respectable 6,000 to a paltry 1,800-2,000 in 2005.

According to a study conducted by WWF, there has been a 15-20% decline in the dolphin population annually in West Bengal, Assam and Bihar.

Sandeep Behera, co-ordinator, Fresh Water Species, WWF says, along the 6,000 km stretch of river Ganges, the WWF, the Forest Department of India and a handful of NGOs are trying to estimate the threat and working towards improving things. River Gomti, for instance, has no dolphins left now. The Yamuna in the Delhi-Itawa region has also lost them. The same story is repeated in the lower Ganga region of Buxar-Farakka.

Behera points out that in the upper Ganga region, on the other hand, thanks to awareness drives, the dolphin population has gone up from 18-22 to 42-45.

Dolphins are indicator of freshwater and are at the apex of the freshwater food chain. Killing dolphins upset that food chain and disrupt the environmental balance, Behera says. Since dolphins are blind, and cant feel either, they often get trapped in the nylon nets and it takes them 10 minutes to choke and die.

Awareness is important in reducing the problem and the drive involves motivating schoolchildren and educating villagers. We are giving villagers basic training to enable them to set up small-scale industries. It is important for villagers to cut their dependence on rivers for livelihood. In this field though, we need more support from the government and industrialists. WWF has also tried to enlist the support of religious leaders to create awareness and ensure periodic cleaning of the Ganga.