The census of one of the world’s most endangered cetaceans, the Indus river dolphin (Platanista gangetica minor), a freshwater dolphin located in the Beas River, is planned to begin in the winter as part of a Centre initiative. Punjab’s wildlife preservation wing, on the other hand, has gone above and above to conserve not just the dolphins but also their natural environment.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classed the Indus river dolphin as endangered, and it was previously thought that these dolphins were confined to Pakistan. In Punjab’s Harike wildlife reserve along the lower Beas river, however, a residual but healthy population of Indus dolphins was identified in 2007. Punjab’s Department of Forests and Wildlife Preservation, in collaboration with WWF-India, has been researching the mammal’s current range, habitat usage, and population abundance since its discovery. In 2019, the Indus River Dolphin was designated as Punjab’s State Aquatic Animal.
“As part of the Central Government’s countrywide programme, freshwater dolphins are being counted. The Punjab government has taken action to protect dolphins and their environment at the state level. The state government recently submitted a proposal to the Indian government that focuses on a multi-pronged strategy that includes habitat management, research, monitoring, advocacy, and environmental education, according to Gitanjali Kanwar, WWF-coordinator India’s for rivers, wetlands, and water policy. “The project will take five years to complete. The focus will be on gathering data on species distribution patterns in space and time, as well as population status, using a well-established and authorised approach. She said that “habitat improvement would be a key component of the initiative.”
“Along with research, community-led biological monitoring will be encouraged to engage riparian communities.” Villages in close proximity to dolphin hotspots will be built as examples for community-led conservation. Extension programmes will be undertaken in order to cultivate a group of committed persons known as the ‘Beas-Dolphin Mitras’ [friends and guardians] of the river Beas. The project will also include dolphin eco-tourism. Ms. Kanwar said, “We will use a participatory method to address a variety of water conservation challenges, including the preservation of freshwater ecosystems and species.”
The Beas river has a sustainable population of numerous essential aquatic species, and the Beas Conservation Reserve was established in 2018 over a 185-kilometer section of the river from 52 Headworks in Talwara to Harike Headworks.
While the State government’s proposal to conserve Indus dolphins and restore their freshwater habitats is awaiting approval from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, scientific enumeration under ‘Project Dolphin’ is set to begin in Punjab during the winter season, which is seen as a first key step toward the conservation effort.
Freshwater dolphins have been counted in various parts of the nation using different methods up till now. The Wildlife Institute of India has now developed a standardised counting approach. The counting of dolphins throughout the nation, including Punjab, will be done using this manner.
After that, we’ll do a countrywide census, which is one of the most important stages toward conservation. “Counting dolphins is a difficult undertaking, particularly in rivers, since they are only visible for a few split seconds. Several training workshops have been conducted, and more are being planned, in order to fully prepare the persons involved in obtaining a credible dolphin census. “We’re all ready to start counting in a few days,” she said.
Since 2008, direct count studies of Indus river dolphins in Punjab have shown that their population is severely low, with less than ten individuals. Ms. Kanwar noted that the numbers have remained relatively consistent over time and that there is no evidence of a reduction, and that calves are seen every year. The dolphins are mostly located between the Harike barrage and Beas town, and they’ve only been seen a few times farther upstream or downstream.
The Department of Forests and Wildlife Preservation and WWF-India performed field studies that clearly identified two hotspots of dolphin occurrence. The first is at Verowal and Gagrewal in Punjab’s Tarn Taran district, while the second is farther downstream near Karmowala and Mundapind in the Tarn Taran district,” Ms. Kanwar said.