River Water Dolphins: National Pride at Stake

Intelligent, playful and friendly are the some of the adjectives associated with these magnificent creatures and in a lifetime, at least once, one has received a China miniature or a curio of the same. The human personifications are not superficial, but given to these mammals after a thorough in-depth research. Dolphins-the name itself spells fun although not literally. The word can be translated from Greek and Latin origins meaning ‘fish with a womb’.

In India, dolphins are categorized under the River Water or the more scientifically Platanistoidea tag.  These are mostly found in the Ganges and are also known as the Gangetic River Dolphin also known as the Irraawady Dolphin found in the Ganges River neat the Bengal delta and the Sunderbans belt. Dolphins can also be spotted in South Indian States like Goa, although smaller in number.  With respect to features of the Indian counterpart, they weigh about 90 to 100 kgs and grow to a height of 8 ft. Dolphins here have a poor eye sight but have developed a strong sonar sense which helps them to navigate in the murkiest of waters.

The River Water Dolphin was recently conferred with the title of the India’s National Aquatic Animal (October, 2009).  One must think that given the popularity of the famed mammal, it received such an elated status. Unfortunately, it is not so. These carefree creatures are on the endangered species list in India and need to be protected.

Various causes have been identified as the reason for the decreasing number of Susu or Shihu- nicknames used by the locals based on the sound the dolphins make.  Increasing river pollution, lack of cleanliness in nearby areas, construction of barriers and rise in poaching and killing of dolphins for meat, skin and oil amongst many others are the causes cited.

By declaring the creature as a national animal, the Indian Government seeks to arouse awareness amongst people about the Gangetic dolphin and find ways and means not only to protect it but also initiate the process Ganges rejuvenation.  At first, this title might seem futile and trite but given the rate and degree of interest amongst people regarding the importance of wildlife, it seems like a step in the right direction. In support of the government’s seemingly lame initiative, take for example, actors and their movies too need to be publicized no matter what the story line or the popularity of the actors themselves. It is then that people take notice- perhaps watch their films too based on the publicity. In a similar vein, if the River Water Dolphin too gets the desired recognition and attention, being touted as some sort of a star, the Ganges might be cleaned and the creature saved!

Think of it- Dolphins that our considered to be highly intelligent animals who can easily bond with humans were in tens of thousands in number till some years back, and have now reduced to a measly 2000 in the whole of India.  For the same reason the Ganges dolphin are added in the Schedule I for the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and steps are underway to prevent these marvelous creatures from being extinct.

Another initiative is the programme-Promoting Conservation: Saving the Gangetic dolphins, Creating Livelihoods, Eco-tourism, which has met which considerable success or so it claims and the Bihar state imposing a strict ban on the hunting of dolphins. Only time will tell how really successful and effective these bans and programs really are.

It  is not enough just to declare the Gangetic Dolphin as part of National pride or even few bans to be imposed; more initiatives need to be undertaken not only on paper but be enforced at ground level. The wildlife protective forces in India need to treat this problem with a grave concern and gather people with similar ideas of protecting India’s wildlife pride. It would be a national shame if the recently crowned national aquatic animal were to be extinct in a few years. Even small efforts like sending SOS emails regarding the same – a modern way of using electronic media to create awareness too is a good step.

Hopefully more initiatives like these will harbor the right kind of vibe and response needed to save the Gangetic Dolphin from extinction. Otherwise, the only way one could admire the dolphin in India would be by glancing at a showcase in a gift shop or observing a good old photograph of the beautiful mammal.

Chriselle Fernandes

[Image courtesy: http://www.thedailystar.net/photo/2009/09/30/2009-09-30__f03.jpg]