West Bengal govt to set up dolphin reserve in Hooghly

West Bengal govt to set up dolphin reserve in Hooghly

The endangered Gangetic dolphins will receive a fresh lease of life with the West Bengal forest department working to set up India’s first dolphin community reserve in Hooghly river.

With less than 2,000 such dolphins left in India, the reserve will help conserve the mammal, which was declared the national aquatic animal in 2010.

The decision to set up the dolphin reserve was made at a meeting of the state wildlife advisory board on Thursday, state Principle Chief Conservator of Forests (Wild Life) Azam Zaidi said.

“The matter was in pipeline for sometime. We gave the final go-ahead to the project on Thursday,” he said, pointing out that the habitat of the Gangetic dolphin stretches from Malda in north Bengal to Sagar islands near the confluence of the Bay of Bengal.

Zaidi said the first step would be to ascertain the actual number of these dolphins, locally known as Sushuk.

“We don’t yet have a clear idea as to how many of these dolphins exist so we’ll start with a census. We’re collaborating with the Wildlife Institute of India, WWF-India and similar agencies for the purpose. These organizations will help us prepare a blueprint for the reserve and advise us on how to best conserve these aquatic animals,” he said.
The senior official admitted that the task ahead is “Herculean”. “It’s a huge task no doubt but we’ve to start somewhere. Today we took the first step,” he said.

“We’ll soon form a committee with all stake-holders, which will guide the project. We’re yet to decide how the reserve will be built and whether there will be specific cordoned-off areas for dolphins,” Zaidi said. He added that the state forest department will initiate an awareness programme for people living along the river.

“We plan to raise awareness about the Gangetic dolphin among people living on both sides of the river so they can become willing participants in the conservation process. We’ll take help of the collaborating organizations for this purpose,” he said. He said that once a common feature in the river, number of Gangetic dolphins has dwindled significantly over the years mostly due to industrial pollution of rivers and indiscriminate fishing.

Sources informed that WWF-India, which has been monitoring Gangetic dolphins since 2011 and identified a dozen sites where these are mainly spotted, is planning to undertake a more organised survey in 2016.

Forest department officials said Gangetic dolphins share the same legal protection as tigers. “The presence of these mammals signals a river’s good health. Conserving dolphins will not only save an endangered species but it will help improve the river’s ecology,” Zaidi said.

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