By: Aishwarya Das Pattnaik
-WWF India in partnership with various stakeholders has been working for many years with communities in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab to safeguard the Ganga and the Indus River dolphins, respectively.
-Gradually, our efforts have helped to form a collective of dedicated community members who are now called Dolphin Mitras - Friends of Dolphins!
-It is an inspiring story of a community-led conservation programme that has been proving beneficial for the survival of vulnerable river dolphins in our country.
A 22 years old ferryman named Bagha from Karmowala village, Punjab, has traditionally learned to respect the Indus river and its tributaries. The Beas river, a major tributary of the Indus river, is home to a very scanty population of the Indus River dolphins. The species is locally known as bhulans machi (long-lipped fish)!
“The river is a force of nature. We worship the river because it has been providing countless services to my entire community. Unfortunately, the Beas river is polluted and poses a huge risk for bhulans” he explains.
Wanting to do more to protect the river and the dolphin species found in it, Bagha joined the Dolphin Mitra initiative. WWF India have trained Bagha on monitoring the health of the river and keep the biodiversity of the river in check.
“It is simply a matter of great joy that I can do something to protect the river and these beautiful aquatic mammals. Additionally, I have also shared critical observations and information on the health of the river and the presence of Indus River Dolphins with WWF India and the Punjab Forest Department!” he chips in happily. Bagha is truly a beaming example of how communities play a crucial role in nature conservation. We are very proud of him!
India is one of the few countries in the world that has two fresh water dolphin species - the Gangetic River Dolphin and the Indus River Dolphin, sub-species of the South Asian River Dolphin!
Nobat Singh, another Dolphin Mitra, has been dedicating his time to protect the Gangetic River dolphins – locally known as Soons - and the revered Ganga river. Hailing from Uttar Pradesh, he fondly reminiscences those days when he used to witness dolphins breaking the river surface from afar. It is a rare occurrence in current times!
Just like Bagha, he has also received specialised training to understand the river’s ecology, spot dolphins, and study their behaviour. WWF India and the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department have benefited regularly from Mr. Nobat. “I am an active participant in many dolphin monitoring and survey activities which gets conducted across the river regularly” he said.
“Today, the chances of getting a glimpse of the Gangetic river dolphin are minimal. We always wondered what we could do to protect them. WWF India informed us about the species – the threats it faced and ways to protect them. Since then, I have always participated in creating awareness and helping during surveys”, says Mr. Nobat ecstatically.
These local members have been devoting their time to help monitor the species’ population, protect its habitats, and raise awareness among other communities. The ensuing outcomes of locally powered conservation actions were felt deeper during the Covid-19 lockdown. Due to restricted movement, our field team staff had access to neither these rivers nor the riparian communities.
But these Mitras, like true “champions of conservation” stepped in to update WWF India and support our conservation efforts by keeping a close watch on both the Ganga and the Beas rivers.
Any successful wildlife conservation programme has the highest impact when the local community is at the heart of its planning and implementation. It helps to practice inclusive conservation - assuring peaceful co-existence between humans and nature! #togetherpossible.