Dolphin ‘mitras’, a helping hand for Ganges river dolphins

May 13th, 2010 - 11:56 am ICT by IANS  

Patna, May 13 (IANS) The endangered Ganges river dolphin in Bihar will now have new ‘mitras’ or friends, who will create awareness for conservation of the species that is India’s national aquatic animal but frequently falls prey to poachers.
The Bihar government took the decision in the wake of the killings of four of the animals a fortnight ago. An autopsy of the four dolphins revealed they were trapped and beaten to death as they bore several marks on their necks and heads.

Seeking a detailed report on the incident, Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh had asked the state government to come up with a plan of action for the protection of dolphins.

The forest and environment department decided to appoint 20 dolphin ‘mitras’ in selected villages near the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary, spread over 50 km along the river Ganga in Bhagalpur district. Set up in 1991, the country’s first dolphin sanctuary has reported frequent killings of the aquatic animal.

“Dolphin ‘mitras’ would be appointed in villages between Sultanganj and Kahalgaon to create awareness to save dolphins in the sanctuary,” C.P. Khanduja, conservator of forest (Bhagalpur division), told IANS over telephone.

He said they would be appointed for a period of 10 months and would be given Rs.500 per month as encouragement.

Khanduja said dolphin ‘mitras’ would also be responsible for providing information about security-related matters concerning the sanctuary, particularly attempts of intentional killing of the dolphin, if any.

State Principal Chief Conservator of Forests B.A. Khan said forest department officials will involve residents as well as NGOs working for the protection of environment and ecology to create awareness to stop the killing of dolphins.

Ganga dolphins fall in the Schedule I of Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act and have been declared an endangered species under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They are sometimes poached upon for their oil.

Khan said the forest department plans to put up hoardings in Hindi in sensitive areas with contact numbers of the local forest officials for information in connection with dolphins and poaching activities.

Patna district forest officer Surendra Singh said the forest department has already intensified patrolling in the river in areas with a high dolphin population.

“The department will purchase its own boats for patrolling,” Singh said. The forest department has so far been hiring country boats for river patrolling.

R.K. Sinha, an expert on the Ganga river dolphins and also chairman of the working group for dolphin conservation, alleged that poachers had killed two more dolphins in Bhagalpur and Patna, a few weeks ago.

There are only about 2,000 Ganga dolphins left, down from tens of thousands just a few decades ago.

The Ganga dolphin is one of the four freshwater dolphin species in the world. The other three are found in the Yangtze river in China, the Indus river in Pakistan and the Amazon river in South America.

The species, found in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, is blind and finds its way and its prey in the river waters through echoes.

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