Ganges river dolphin conservation

The Ganges River Dolphin

The Brahmaputra River system was until recently one of the last refuges containing relatively healthy dolphin populations. But research by the Assamese NGO Aaranyak indicates that this population is now highly threatened, experiencing severe decline and there are fewer than 300 individuals left in the region.

ZSL is working closely with Aaranyak and the local community to monitor the Ganges river dolphin population, assess the different threats to its survival and increase awareness of its conservation needs.

Why we are here

The Brahmaputra River is located in Assam, North-East India. It is 2,900 km long, originates in Tibet, flows through India and joins the River Ganges in Bangladesh. Ganges River dolphins were originally found throughout the Brahmaputra and Ganges river systems, but they have severely declined over the last 50 years.

The Ganges River Dolphin is threatened by a number of human activities. We don't know which is contributing most to the decline, but overfishing, pollution, dam construction, poaching and sand mining are having a severe detrimental impact on the dolphin population. Read about threats to the Ganges River Dolphin.

Key achievements and goals

This long-term conservation programme for the Ganges River dolphin in the Brahmaputra River system involves both research into the dolphin populations, and community engagement in conservation initiatives. Our team is surveying the Indian section of the Brahmaputra River, which covers over 1,000km. We have developed new methods using visual counts and acoustic data to count the river dolphins, which will allow us to estimate dolphin numbers and their preferred habitats. Because the majority of dolphins are in habitats outside protected areas, we rely on the involvement of fishing communities to know about and protect the river dolphin. We coordinate community engagement and awareness campaigns in an initiative called ‘Dolphin Yatra’.

Project information

Key species

  • Gangetic river dolphin, P. g. gangetica, Endangered. It is a subspecies of the freshwater South Asian river dolphin Platanista gangetica that is found in India, Bangladesh, Nepal & Pakistan. 

People involved

  • Gitanjali Bhattacharya runs ZSL’s river dolphin project

Partners and sponsors

  • Aaranyak: Primary conservation NGO in northeast India, who are coordinating the Gangetic Dolphin Research & Conservation Programme.
  • Ministry of Environment & Forests: Wildlife management authority in the Government of Assam.
  • Wildlife Institute of India: Premier wildlife research organisation in India under Ministry of Environment & Forest, Govt. of India.
  • This is a Darwin Initiative funded project