Dolphin remains

finally things seem to be looking up for the Gangetic river dolphins in India. Sustained efforts by conservationists are beginning to bear some fruit as was seen at a recent meeting organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature-India (wwf) in Delhi. The meeting, which deliberated upon the recommendations of dolphin experts, came out with a plan for dolphin conservation in Uttar Pradesh (up). While the up government has given a go ahead to the conservation efforts, experts say that the centre is still treating the issue with disregard.

According to R L Singh, chief wildlife warden of up , three existing wildlife sanctuaries (ws) in three rivers of up are being prioritised for dolphin conservation. "We have directed our officers in these sanctuaries to plan and make strategies for improvement of dolphin habitats,' he says. The sanctuaries in question are Katarniaghat (18 kilometre (km) stretch of the Kauriala river), the Chambal (150 km of the Chambal river) and the turtle sanctuary (7 km of the Ganga river starting from the holy town of Varanasi).

The up government has also agreed to declare the stretch of river Ganga along the Hastinapur sanctuary as a protected area. Experts have also recommended that another 65 km of the Ganga from Bijnor to Narora be declared as a protected area. "We hope that the up secretary of irrigation will give his approval,' says Sandeep Behera, who heads the dolphin conservation unit of wwf -India.

The river dolphins are found in the Ganga and Brahmaputra river systems of the country. However, their populations are threatened because humans are pushing them to the verge of extinction. One of the major reasons for the dwindling dolphin population is pollution of the rivers. There are no dolphins in the main Ganga, which was once a habitat for the species. Heavy pollution from towns like Allahabad and Kanpur has wiped out large populations.

Despite years of campaign, dolphin conservationists have failed to get a favourable response from the Union government and the Union ministry of environment and forests. Researchers and experts say that though many proposals have been submitted to the ministry, it has failed to react. Out of the 2,000-odd dolphins in India, up houses more than 700 dolphins. "Since captive breeding (of the dolphins) is not possible, we have to adopt a habitat-oriented strategy like in the case of Project Tiger,' says Singh.

In another development, the Patna high court has ordered the centre and the Bihar government to devise strategies to conserve the dolphins in Bihar. "The chief justice read about the plight of the dolphins in the papers and filed a suo moto petition,' says Behera. The court then ruled that the Bihar forest department and the centre must take steps to protect the dolphins. Although the plans were finalised, there was no mention of the financial sources, which the court directed to be included in the recent hearing. While the centre says it has no money for the conservation of the dolphins in Bihar, the species continue to move towards extinction in the state.

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