Dance of the dolphin

There has been an increase in the number of Gangetic river dolphins, an endangered species, writes Azera Rahman

The Brahmaputra is considered the last remaining refuge of the Gangetic river dolphin
The Brahmaputra is considered the last remaining refuge of the Gangetic river dolphin

This should bring back the smile on the faces of conservationists. The number of Gangetic river dolphins — an endangered species with a global population of less than 2,000 — have increased in the Brahmaputra river in Assam.

The Gangetic river dolphin is found in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli river system of India, Nepal and Bangladesh. In the 19th century, the dolphins were plentiful in the entire range, although no actual data on their population was available.

However, due to various pressures, such as incessant hunting because of the dolphin’s oil and skin, the range and abundance of this species has sharply declined. As a result, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) revised the dophin’s threatened status from Vulnerable to Endangered in 1996.

It is also one of the top protected species in India under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

Besides the Ganges river system of northern India, the Brahmaputra river system is a major habitat of Gangetic dolphins in India. According to experts, because of no water development projects in the mainstream, the Brahmaputra river system in India and Bangladesh is now considered the last remaining refuge of this species.

"The fact that the number of Gangetic river dolphins in the Brahmaputra has been decreasing over the past two decades was an alarming fact. Until now, there seems to have been a beacon of hope," Abdul Wakid, programme leader of the Ganges Dolphin Research and Conservation Programme in Guwahati, Assam, said.

The beacon of hope that Wakid was referring to is the recent survey conducted by the NGO Aaranyak, which works on biodiversity research and conservation in the northeast.

"Our latest study this year revealed that the number of dolphins has increased by 15 since 2005 which is a sign of hope for us. The number of dolphins in 2005 was found to be 250, but this year’s study found the numbers to have increased to 265 in the Brahmaputra," Wakid said.

Aaranyak has set up a dolphin conservation network of 40 community-based, trained volunteers to monitor and conserve dolphins in their habitats scientifically. They have also set up a field structure near the Kulsi tributary of the Brahmaputra to monitor the dolphins.

"With Assam declaring the dolphin as the state aquatic animal in June this year, the enthusiasm to protect the animal is even more boosted.

"Moreover, we have trained more than 100 youths in the Brahmaputra valley to conserve dolphins and conducted numerous campaigns to raise awareness on the issue at the grassroots level," Wakid said.

"The Gangetic river dolphin has been maintaining the aquatic equilibrium of the Brahmaputra.Therefore, a decrease in its population adversely affects the socio-economic condition of Assam," he added. — IANS