Separate teams to conduct surveys on 16 stretches, covering 2,800 km of the river system

Eighteen boats have been pressed into service to cover about 2,800 km of the Gangetic river system in Uttar Pradesh in the first major initiative towards creating awareness of conserving the critically endangered species of Gangetic dolphin (Platanista Gangetica). The species is endemic to the Gangetic river system.

The three-day ‘Save Ganga, Save Dolphin’ campaign has been launched by the U.P. Forest department in association with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and involving 14 NGOs and local volunteers. It was flagged off by Transport Minister Raja Mahendra Aridaman Singh in the U.P. Forest office on Friday.

The campaign, which is also meant to collect baseline information on distribution of the dolphins and population status in the State, will be declared closed by Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav on Sunday. He will also release the new census figures.

Called the ‘Tiger of the Ganges,’ the Gangetic dolphin is an indicator animal (predator). It is one of the four species found worldwide and enjoys the same position in the river ecosystem as the tiger in the forest. With the riverine system facing multiple threats, the number of dolphins declined to about 1,600 in 2005 (when the last census was conducted in a fragmented manner) from 4,000-5,000 in 1982. It is said that at the turn of the last century, the Gangetic dolphin population was around 50,000. Now, a survey is being conducted by separate teams along 16 stretches of the Ganga and its tributaries in the State. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden, Rupak De said the teams, including forest officials, NGOs and volunteers, would cover 70 km a day on average. “The first ever step to conserve the Gangetic dolphin has a twin objective of knowing the headcount of the mammal and publicising the campaign for its conservation,” Mr. De said. In the Ganga, the survey started at Bijnor and will conclude in Varanasi on October 7. In the Yamuna, a major tributary, the campaign will be held from Pachneda in Etawah district to the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna at Sangam in Allahabad. The survey in the Chambal river will stretch from Rajghat (in Morena district of Madhya Pradesh) to Pachnoda in Etawah, where it flows into the Yamuna.

In the Geruwa and Ghaghra rivers, the survey will stretch from the Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in Bahraich district to Doharighat in Mau district. The campaign in this leg will involve a stretch of the Saryu river in Ayodhya and the Rapti, a tributary of the Ghaghra in Gorakhpur district. In the Betwa, the campaign will stretch from Orchhha to Hamirpur, where the river merges with the Yamuna. In the Ken, another tributary of the Yamuna, the survey will be done from Banda to Chilla and in the Sone river, from Rampur to Deoara. The exercise in the different rivers will end on October 6 or 7 depending on the distance to be covered.

Sandeep Behera of the WWF says the annual mortality rate of the dolphins ranges from 130 to 160 and the growth of the animal is slow. Fragmentation of rivers with dams and barrages causing lean flow, siltation, pollution and indiscriminate extraction of river water, apart from dolphins being accidentally caught in fishermen’s nets, are a major threat to their survival.