Ganges River Dolphin is the National Aquatic Animal Of India

Do you wish to know more about these dolphins? Here are some facts about the Ganges River Dolphin.

Dolphins are one of the oldest creatures in the world along with some species of turtles, crocodiles and sharks. The Ganges river dolphin was officially discovered in 1801. Ganges river dolphins once lived in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. But the species is extinct from most of its early distribution ranges.

The Ganges river dolphin can only live in freshwater and is essentially blind. They hunt by emitting ultrasonic sounds, which bounces off of fish and other prey, enabling them to “see” an image in their mind. They are frequently found alone or in small groups, and generally a mother and calf travel together. Calves are chocolate brown at birth and then have grey-brown smooth, hairless skin as adults. Females are larger than males and give birth once every two to three years to only one calf.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests notified the Ganges River Dolphin as the
National Aquatic Animal today. The River Dolphin inhabits the Ganges Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh.

It is estimated that their total population is around 2,000, and they are recognized as ‘highly endangered’ in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972). Announcing this, the Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, said that “by giving the sub-species the National Aquatic Animal status, we hope to raise public awareness and support, especially among the younger generation, for its conservation and protection”.

The Ganges Dolphin is among the four “obligate” freshwater dolphins found in the world – the other three are the ‘baiji’ found in the Yangtze River (China), the ‘bhulan’ of the Indus (Pakistan) and the ‘boto’ of the Amazon River (Latin America). Although there are several species of marine dolphins whose ranges include some freshwater habitats, these four species live only in rivers and lakes. The Chinese River Dolphin was declared functionally extinct by a team of international scientists in 2006.

In India, the Ganges River Dolphin is threatened by river water pollution and siltation, accidental entanglement in fishing nets, and poaching for their oil. In addition, alterations to the rivers in the form of barrages and dams are separating populations. Various organizations, including the WWF-India in Uttar Pradesh, have initiated programs for conservation and re-introduction of the River Dolphin. The National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) setup by the Government of India will spend Rs 15,000 crores over the next ten years for cleaning River Ganga. Professor R K Sinha (Patna University) noted that “since the Dolphins are at the apex of the food chain in river systems, if their numbers increase, it will be indicative of
the success of the program”.

Just as the Tiger represents the health of the forest, just as the Snow Leopard represents the health of the mountainous regions, and the Cheetah, the health of grasslands, the presence of the Dolphin in a river system signals its good health and biodiversity. This move is expected to increase support for the Government’s efforts to protect this vulnerable species.

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