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Gangetic Dolphin Research And Conservation  Initiative

Gangetic dolphin (Platanista gangetica) is a freshwater dolphin, distributed in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli river system of India, Nepal and Bangladesh. The species has been facing severe threat as its global population decline, for which IUCN categorized the species as Endangered in 1996. It has been assessed that at present the species has not more than 2,500 individuals throughout its distributional ranges.

The Brahmaputra river system in north east India, particularly in Assam is one of the major habitats of the species. Before two decades the species was one of the commonly sighted aquatic mega-fauna not only in the Brahmaputra River, but also in most of its major tributaries. However, due to various anthropogenic pressures, most of the residential populations were declined from the tributaries and now only the Brahmaputra River is becoming the ultimate shelter for the species, where also the population has been rapidly decreasing.

In this situation, there is an urgent need to undertake a well planned and long term conservation effort to save Gangetic dolphin from extinction. The Gangetic Dolphin Research and Conservation Programme of Aaranyak is an attempt to save the species through quality research, conservation and environment education.

Aim of the Programme

Conservation of Gangetic dolphin through research based investigation and active participation of all concerned stakeholders in Assam.

Objectives of the Programme
1.Determination of the population status and    distribution pattern of dolphins in identified habitats of Assam.
2.Investigation of the habitat ecology and behaviour of dolphin populations in these habitats.
3.Identification of threats to the dolphins and their habitats and initiate site as well as factor based conservation measures.
4.Awareness raising and capacity building among the concerned stakeholders for the conservation of the species.
5.Identification of the least studied and potential field of research on the species and conduct study on these fields
Current conservation effort

This programme has been initiated with a conservation project entitled "Conservation of Gangetic dolphin in Brahmaputra river system, India" in collaboration with Dibrugarh University (Assam).

The project aims in the evaluation of conservation status of Gangetic dolphin in the entire Brahmaputra river system through research based investigation and formulation of site and factor based conservation strategy and initiation of effort for the conservation of the species.

At present the investigating team is conducting riverine survey in the Brahmaputra river and its major tributaries for

a) Identification of microhabitats of the species

b) Determination of the population status and distribution pattern of dolphins in each dentified microhabitats and

c) Identification and determination of anthropogenic pressures, especially poaching and by catch killing in each such identified microhabitats. Based upon the findings the threatened microhabitats will be identified, where protection measures will be taken through a management action plan and the active participation of all concerned stakeholders.   

 

The project has been financially supported by BP Conservation Programme (as a joint programme of Birdlife International (UK), Fauna and Flora International (UK), Wildlife Conservation Society (USA), Conservation International (USA) and Rufford Small Grant for Nature Conservation (UK). Besides, the project has been supported by IUCN's Cetacean Specialist Group.

Some of the salient progresses made within this initiative are -

 

Status survey 

In February-April, 2005, the GDRCP conducted its main population status survey in the 76 km stretch of Kulsi River (Kamrup district), 99 km stretch of Subansiri River (Lakhimpur district) and 856 km stretch of Brahmaputra mainstream from Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border to India-Bangladesh border. Altogether 250 dolphins (best estimate) were recorded in the entire Brahmaputra Valley with 27 in Kulsi, 26 in Subansiri and 197 in Brahmaputra mainstream. 

 

Habitat ecology study

In 2006-07, the GDRCP conducted intensive study on the habitat ecology of the dolphins in Kulsi and Subansiri River. Altogether 76 km stretch of Kulsi River (Kamrup district) and 99 km dolphin inhabited stretch of Subansiri River (Lakhimpur district) were studied in details during the period. 

 

Capacity development of local communities 

2 Dolphin Conservation Training Camps were organized, one at Nimatighat (Jorhat district) of Eastern Assam from 25th to 27th February, 2006 and another at Jogighopa (Bongaigaon district) of Western Assam from 18th to 20th March, 2006 in collaboration with the concerned district administration and divisional forest offices. Altogether 70 community youths from 27 different areas (dolphin inhabited) of 10 different districts of Eastern, Central and Western Assam were trained up in these three days training camps, where the participants were trained up from basic ecology, biology, behaviour and threats of Ganges dolphin with direct field experience and the techniques through which they can undertake initiatives to minimize the threats of their nearest dolphin habitats. 

 

Involving the stakeholders in dolphin conservation

One national level Dolphin Conservation Workshop was organized on 8th December, 2006 in Guwahati in collaboration with the Department of Environment & Forest, Govt. of Assam. Altogether 35 participants (managers, biologists, conservationists and journalist) from 15 different organizations were actively participated. The workshop reviewed the status of the species in Assam, discussed threats and put forwarded valuable recommendations for the conservation of the species in Assam.  

 

Team ’s Capacity development

The Team Leader of the GDRCP worked as a Visiting Scientist at the Mote Marine Laboratory (Florida, US) for two months in July-September, 2007 during which he worked with the marine biologists engaged in 7 different studies on the ecology, behaviour, biology and acoustics of the Bottlenose dolphins of Gulf of Mexico. 

 

International symposium participation

The Project Leader of GDRCP participated in the Annual Conference of the Society for Conservation Biology at University of Brasilia (Brazil) in June 2005 and San Jose (California, USA) in June, 2006 during which he conveyed the recent research and conservation initiatives on the Gangetic dolphins of Brahmaputra river system to the global scientific communities. 

 

World-wide campaign to save the species

The GDRCP conducted extensive campaign at both national and international level to save the species from the possible impact of the proposed seismic survey by Oil India Ltd on the Ganges dolphins of Brahmaputra River. With strong support from all the leading conservation organizations of India and abroad (IUCN, IWC, WDCS etc), the GDCRP demanded an intensive study on the possible impact and proper mitigation measures guideline before the seismic survey. As an attempt to that the MoEF critically examined the issue with special interest to the conservation of the species.  

 

Award

Abdul Wakid, the Programme Leader of GDRCP has been awarded Ph. D. degree by the Dibrugarh University (Assam) for his studies on the ecology and Behaviour of Gangetic dolphin in Eastern Brahmaputra basin in 2006. 

 

Recognition

Dr. Abdul Wakid, the Programme Leader of the GDRCP has been nominated as a Member to the prestigious IUCN-Cetacean Specialist Group.

To know more about this initiative please contact Dr. Abdul Wakid at wakid@aaranyak.org