Friday, October 5, 2012

Census of dolphins to begin today

Officials of Uttar Pradesh forest department and World Wildlife Fund-India would start a three-day census of gangetic river dolphins in five rivers of the state on Friday. The census will get the first baseline data on the species, based on which the action plan for conservation of the dolphins will be planned. The census and the awareness programme will be flagged off by transport minister Raja Aridaman Singh. "This will be the biggest ever single census done for this species," said Rupak De, PCCF (Wildlife), UP. The count will conclude on Sunday, October 7. The total number of dolphins found in the state will be announced by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav. In order to ensure transparency in the exercise, the forest department has roped in 14 NGOs to participate in the census and the awareness programme. The campaign, being launched to survey the number of gangetic dolphins present across 2,800-km stretch of the river Ganga and its tributaries (Yamuna, Son, Ken, Betwa, Ghagra and Gerua), will also look at raising awareness among the local communities in and around the banks of the Ganga about the presence and conservation of the national aquatic mammal as well as helping in capacity building of stakeholders associated with the conservation of the mammal.
The gangetic river dolphin is an endemic fauna of the Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna river systems and is one of the four freshwater dolphins of the world. The gangetic river dolphin is an indicator animal and its presence is a sign of healthy river ecosystem. "In 2005, WWF-India had counted 600 dolphins in the rivers of UP, the current count will give a different number," said Sandeep Behera, associate director, river basins and biodiversity of WWF-India. Creating awareness among the local communities, including fishermen and villagers, and frontline staff of forest department will be a major part of the census. "Since dolphins also feed on fishes, fishermen take them as competitors," said De. In order to create awareness, panchayats will also be involved. Over the last few years, the distribution range of dolphins has shrunk drastically with their population being adversely affected by various developmental activities like construction of dams and barrages resulting in lean river flows, indiscriminate fishing, heavy siltation of rivers due to deforestation, pollution of the river and habitat destruction. The growth rate of dolphins is very slow. The males mature at the age of 10 years, while females mature at 12 years. Their average age is 18 years. In all its lifetime, a female gives birth to 5 to 6 offspring. "Its death rate is increasing due to environmental degradation," said Behera. While the population of dolphin in 1982 was estimated to be 5,000 in the country, it is, now, less than 2,000 with an annual mortality estimated to be at 130-160 animals. The mammal is listed in schedule (I) of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and categorised as "endangered" by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and enjoys high levels of legal protection nationally and internationally.

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