India’s first dolphin research centre to come up soon in Patna

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Patna | Published: October 3, 2018 12:36:16 PM

National Dolphin Research Centre (NDRC), India's and Asia's first, would be a reality here soon with October 5 being hinted at as the date for the groundbreaking ceremony.

The mammals are being killed at an alarming rate with wildlife officials saying poachers covet them for their flesh, fat and oil. (Representational photo: Reuters)

With the population of the endangered Gangetic river dolphin decreasing and its habitat changing, there is finally good news that the much-awaited National Dolphin Research Centre (NDRC), India’s and Asia’s first, would be a reality here soon — with October 5 being hinted at as the date for the groundbreaking ceremony.

After remaining in a limbo for nearly six years on one or the other pretext, the NDRC is likely to be set up next month on the banks of the Ganga river in the Patna University premises. It will play an important role in strengthening conservation efforts and research to save the endangered mammal.

“We are in final stages to commence work to set up the NDRC after some formalities are cleared between the department and Patna University,” Surendra Singh, Conservator of Forests and Additional Secretary, Department of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, told IANS here.

Echoing this, Santosh Tiwari, Chief Conservator of Forests-cum Chief Executive Officer, Wildlife Conservation Fund, told IANS: We are ready to set up the NDRC as soon as possible because it is a priority for us.”

The process to set up the NDRC started after the Patna University agreed nearly two months ago to provide the land. The university’s Syndicate had earlier stalled the proposal for over three years.

Unhappy over the delay, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had threatened earlier this year to shift NDRC to Bhagalpur.

“We have been trying to set up the NDRC close to the Ganga, and university was found suitable. Two acres of land was also identified, but the university did not agree (to its transfer). We hope university will change its stand or we will shift it to Bhagalpur, where the number of dolphins is higher,” he had said at the time.

Sensing a tough stand, the university finally gave its clearance for the land.

A well-reputed expert on Gangetic river dolphins, R.K. Sinha, who is currently Vice Chancellor of the Nalanda Open University (not to be mistaken for the revived Nalanda University) in Patna, said the NDRC will prove a boon for research and conservation of dolphins.

“With the government ready and funds available, NDRC will now not be delayed. It is going to be a positive development for much-needed dolphin research,” Sinha, known as the Dolphin Man for his research on Gangetic dolphins as professor in Patna University, told IANS.

He said the dolphin habitat has been threatened and disturbed in the river.

“The water level has been decreasing and the flow has slowed down. Besides, siltation is increasing in the river. All this is not favourable for dolphins,” Sinha explained.

He said the Gangetic river dolphin is India’s national aquatic animal but frequently falls prey to poachers and is sometimes killed inadvertently after being trapped in plastic fishing nets and hit by mechanised boats.

The mammals are being killed at an alarming rate with wildlife officials saying poachers covet them for their flesh, fat and oil.

Sinha, who has been conferred a Padma Shri for his research on dolphins, said the mammal’s presence signals a healthy river ecosystem. Dolphins prefer water that is at least 5-8 feet deep. They are usually found in turbulent waters where there is enough fish for them to feed on.

“Gangetic dolphins prefer deep water with adjoining shallow water. They live in a zone where there is little or no current that helps them save energy. If they sense danger, they can go into deep waters. The dolphins swim from the no-current zone to the edges to hunt for fish and return,” Sinha said.

Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, who is also Environment and Forest Minister, has hinted that the NDRC’s foundation stone is likely to be laid on October 5, observe as Dolphin Day in Bihar.

Sinha had mooted the idea of setting up the NDRC in Patna. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, then Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, had approved the proposal during his visits in mid-2011 and early 2012 after he was impressed by sight of dolphins along the 22 km stretch of the Ganga river here.

The Commission had sanctioned Rs 28.06 crore for it in 2013 followed by the state government releasing Rs 18.16 crore in 2014 to the Infrastructure Development Authority. It’s remained stuck there since then.

“We are now hopeful that it will come up soon after the university’s go-ahead on the land. The delay was unfortunate as it hampered research on dolphins, which are facing a difficult time,” Gopal Sharma, a scientist with the Zoological Survey of India here, said.

The Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary, India’s only dolphin sanctuary, spread over 50 km along the Ganges, is located in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district.

Bihar is home to around half of the country’s estimated 3,000 dolphin population. The state government has decided to conduct a study-cum-survey of the Gangetic dolphin in 2018 in the 525-km stretch of the Ganga river between Chausa (Buxar) in the west and Manihari (Katihar) in the east. The Wildlife Institute of India will help the government in this.

The last survey was conducted in 2012 and nearly 1,500 dolphins were counted.

Gangetic river dolphins fall under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act and have been declared an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The Gangetic river dolphin is one of the four freshwater dolphin species in the world. The other three are found in the Yangtze river, the Indus river in Pakistan and the Amazon river.

The Gangetic river species — found in India, Bangladesh and Nepal — is almost completely blind. It finds its way and prey using echoes — with sound being everything for them to navigate, feed, escape danger, find mates, breed, nurse babies and play.

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