Ganges River Dolphin Conservation Programme
In 2010, together with in country partners Aaranyak, the Department of Environment and Forests and Wildlife Institute of India, ZSL embarked on a long-term integrated conservation programme for the Ganges River dolphin in the Brahmaputra River system. This three-year project was funded by a Darwin Initiative grant and supported ecosystem services through research and monitoring, capacity building, environmental awareness and participatory conservation action.
The main aims of the project were:
©Sandeep Kumar Behera, WWF-India
1. To provide improved information on dolphin population dynamics and threats for effective management and conservation strategies by:
- Establishing standardised monitoring and research protocols, along with a purpose-built survey boat with lab equipment, a scientific database, and GIS maps.
- Establishing a coordinated framework of institutionalised dolphin monitoring systems across the Brahmaputra River system, with free exchange of information between these and programmes in other ecosystems.
- Enabling continued monitoring of the status of dolphins and their ecosystem beyond the project’s duration.
2. To minimise dolphin mortality from poaching and by-catch through:
- Raising public awareness about dolphins and their ecosystem, through community-based awareness activities such as exposure visits to project sites and community “street theatre” with a vivid environmental message.
- Reducing illegal hunting of dolphins through strengthened law enforcement and promotion of alternative fish baits (e.g. fish-gut oil).
- Promoting sustainable use of the river system through fisheries enforcement and fisheries-based sustainable livelihood options including native species aquaculture. The use of dolphins as a basis for ecotourism s also being explored.
- Developing local community “stewardship” of the river ecosystem and enhancing relationships with local communities across dolphin sites, using education and awareness programmes that can be easily replicated in other communities.
3. Ultimately, generating river dolphin recovery plans at state and national levels, with improved protective legislations for freshwater ecosystems, by:
- Building the capacity and technical skills of local conservation NGOs, communities and relevant government agencies, through meetings, training workshops, research studies and provision of resource material and support.
- Encouraging relevant environmental agencies to adopt ecosystem management recommendations for conserving river dolphins and key habitats, and for managing the river’s wider resources.
- Increasing advocacy and lobbying capacity to help build dolphin portection policies into regional development plans. The Government of India under the MoEF is in the process of launching a new programme for wildlife outside protected areas, and the recovery plan will be integrated into both this programme and the revised Brahmaputra River Action Plan.
The Darwin Initiave funded project managed jointly by ZSL and Aaranyak has come to an end. The significant outputs from the projects are serving to conserve dolphins in the Brahmaputra river system. An important result of the work was the development of an internationally recognised, standardised river dolphin survey method, which can now be used throughout the species’ range to produce comparable population estimates and monitor the status of the species.