Ganga River Dolphin Platanista gangetica commonly known as Soons is endemic to the Indian sub-continent. Often known as the Tiger of the Ganga the river dolphin is an indicator animal and has the same position in a river ecosystem as a tiger in a forest. The presence of the species indicates a healthy river ecosystem. It is found in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of India and Bangladesh, while remnant populations are reported from Karnali, and the Sapta-Kosi Rivers in Nepal. Approx. 1800-2000 dolphins have been estimated in the current distribution range. The species is listed endangered by the IUCN and is placed in Schedule I in the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. In India the Ganga River Dolphin have been formally adopted as the National Aquatic Animal on 5th October 2009.
Once abundant, the species populations are reported to have declined drastically in much of its distribution range. The habitat altered remains fragmented and increasing pollution in freshwater ecosystems adversely affect animal health, and bioaccumulation may lead to serious consequences. The population of dolphin in 1982 was estimated to be between 4000-5000 in India, now it is less than 2000 with an annual mortality estimated to be at 130-160 animals. Habitat destruction and lacking of a meaningful estimate of range-wise abundance has often caused a major hindrance in developing conservation management plan.
Dolphin Census 2012: During the Wildlife Week (1-7 October, 2012) WWF-India launched "MY GANGA, MY DOLPHIN” campaign in collaboration with the U.P Forest Department. About 2500km of riverine stretch was surveyed in the state covering Rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Chambal, Geruwa, Ghagra, Ken, Betwa, Surya and Rapti. 18 teams comprising of about 150 participants took part in the 3 day survey programme. A total of 671 dolphins were counted. While the 555 Kilometer stretch of the Ghagra recorded the maximum of 239 Dolphins, there were no dolphin sightings in the Ken and Betwa rivers.
Dolphin census 2015: This year, the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department and WWF-India with financial support of National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) are all set to conduct the Dolphin census in a bigger scale and in a much more decentralized fashion. This year the census will be from October 5-8, 2015 and will cover 3350 kilometer stretch of the Ganga, Yamuna, Chambal, Ken, Betwa, Son, Sharda, Geruwa,Gahagra Gandak and Rapti. Uttar Pradesh is slated to become the first state to have conducted this census twice in a participatory manner using a unified methodology
This census will contribute to strengthening the data and information on dolphin population from across the distribution range of the species in the Uttar Pradesh state. Threats to species and its habitat will be identified and management strategy will be devised for ‘Critical habitats’ as conservation hotspots. The exercise will also help in building capacity for adopting effective data collection skills and monitoring by the participating teams.
Dolphin census will be conducted following a simple technique (Direct Count Method) based on IUCN survey protocol for studying freshwater Cetaceans. Surveys will be conducted between 0700-1100hr (morning) and 1500-1730hr (evening). In addition to estimating the population of Gangetic Dolphins in Uttar Pradesh, a habitat evaluation will be conducted to record specific threats faced by the species.
A team of over 200 people including officials from 21 forest divisions and 23 NGOs will actively participate in this survey. Each of the 21 teams will be coordinated by the Divisional Forest Officials (DFOs). Teams will simultaneously cover 50-60 km in two shifts in a day from October 5-8, 2015. Team will comprise 2 officials from the forest department; two representatives of NGOs will be a part of the survey team besides the boatman and helper.
This exercise also aims to build the capacity of forest department’s front line staff, local NGOs and community members in their conservation efforts. Training programmes have been organized by WWF-India at Katrniaghat and Allahabad during September 21-25, 2015 building capacity of 170 surveyors so far. Training programme for another 60 people is being organised in Narora from Sep 28-30.
Shri. Sanjeev Sharan, Principal Secretary, Forests, will flag off the campaign from Kanpur on October 5, also observed as the National Dolphin Day. Flag offs will be simultaneously organized at Bijnore, Narora, Farrukhabad, Allahabad, Dabri, Hamirpur, Tasod, Bareh, Nepal Border, Kartniaghat wildlife sanctuary, Jalimnagar bridge, Sitapur, Barabanki, Faizabad, Doharighat, Sharavasti, Orchha, Jigani, Bilharka, Obra on October 5, 2015.
The ‘My Ganga, My Dolphin’ campaign that is being rolled along with the census aims to build awareness and garner the support from local community members to volunteer as ‘Dolphin Mitras’ and to reduce the threats to the Dolphin population and sustain conservation efforts of the national aquatic animal. The survey team also will sensitise the local communities on the importance of Dolphins and the actions needed to conserve the habitat and species. There will be a communications and outreach strategy to disseminate the message of Dolphin conservation via print, electronic and social media.