KOLKATA, 21 JUNE: At a time when the Gangetic River Dolphins, declared as the national aquatic animal by the Union ministry of environment and forests recently, are on the verge of extinction from the state, the state forest department has no plans yet for their preservation.
The department is completely oblivious of the change in Gangetic Dolphins’ migration trend and also number of them killed over the years. “Dophins are already protected under the Wildlife Protection Act and we have no other scheme as of now. The divisional forest office in Durgapur has, however, been told to formulate a scheme. Once it is ready we will send it to the Centre for approval,” said Mr SB Mondal, chief wildlife warden.
Even though some of them can still be sighted duping the ferries and launches in the murky waters of Ahiritolla and Babughat, their numbers are fast dwindling. Irrawaddy dolphins have outnumbered Gangetic dolphins in the Sunderbans due to rise in salinity, which was once a hot spot for these mammals. The high level of salinity has altered their migratory trends pushing them upstream. Many of the Gangetics dolphins from the state have now moved towards Bihar.
However, the risk persists with high heavy siltation in the rivers towards the north. “Dolphins prefer deep waters but due to high siltation there are chances of their nose getting stuck in the silt moulds resulting in their death,” said Dr Sujit Chakroborty, former joint director, Zoological Survey of India.
The Ganges River Dolphin is also threatened by accidental entanglement in fishing nets, and poaching for their oil. Construction of barrages, dams and ports have separated groups in which they habitat. “Though killing dolphins is not a trend yet in the state, these mammals often fall prey to curiosity as people in rural areas think they are ‘matsyakanya’ (mermaid). Dolphin meat is often sold illegally in some markets in Murshidabad,” said Dr Chakroborty.
The River Dolphin inhabits the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. It is estimated that their total population is around 2,000, and they are recognised as ‘highly endangered’ in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972). The National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) set up by the Government of India will spend Rs 15,000 crores over the next 10 years for cleaning the river Ganga in the wake of threat to river dolphin due to pollution.