By Mohd Shahnawaz Khan, IUCN CEM Young Professional.
The habitat of the Ganges River Dolphin is under intense anthropogenic pressure (particularly in Ganga Basin), resulting in the decline of biodiversity due to habitat loss or degradation. Habitat degradation through pollution, flow modification, overexploitation, invasive species and sand mining in rivers are among the major threats adversely affecting the survival of freshwater species. Due to these prevailing threats, freshwater biodiversity has been declined by 84% on average since 1970. Conservation action often fails to target freshwater species or habitats, partly because freshwater species and habitat protection often require large-scale, multi-sectoral efforts.
Keeping this in mind, ‘My Ganga, My Dolphin’ Campaign, a joint initiative by the WWF-India and Uttar Pradesh Forest Department, was conceptualized in 2012 to conserve the Ganga River Dolphin and its habitat through multi-stakeholder participation. The campaign’s primary objectives are collecting baseline information of the species distribution and population status in the state, creating awareness for the conservation, developing the capacity of key stakeholders, garnered support from the policymakers, local communities, government line departments and media for the conservation of the species and its habitat in Uttar Pradesh.
Under this campaign, two statewide dolphin censuses and awareness programme throughout the state were undertaken in Uttar Pradesh in 2012 and 2015. Since 2015, an annual ‘My Ganga, My Dolphin’ campaign has also been carried out in Upper Ganga River, from Bijnor Barrage (Bijnor) to Narora Barrage (Bulandshahar) during October. Through training to monitor the river health, the capacity building of local stakeholders is one of the key outcomes of the campaign. The campaign has built a network of “Ganga Mitras” [Friends of Ganga] all along the rivers within the distribution range of the Ganges River Dolphin in Uttar Pradesh.
The campaign has not only strengthened the dolphin monitoring exercise to support effective management of species and its habitat but also brought positive change in the attitudes of the riparian people. The way campaign has been led in Uttar Pradesh, in terms of methodology, consistency and leadership, can be a model for the rest of the dolphin range state in India.
The rising awareness for the conservation of the Ganges River Dolphin is a way to build a common understanding of the riparian community related to dolphin conservation and create shared values on how dolphin populations could benefit the local ecological system of Ganga. The riparian communities are encouraged to reflect upon their connection to the River Ganga and Dolphins and inspired to become “Ganga Mitras” and also motivated to take up an active role in educating fellow community members about the threats faced by the river as well as possible solutions. Ganga Mitras are vital for the conservation of Ganges River Dolphins, considering that they live close to the river and can play a key role in monitoring changes in the habitat, river watch, modifying their behaviour to reduce threats on the habitat and influencing policymakers to take action for the conservation of the species and its habitat.
Mr Mohd Shahnawaz Khan is currently Associate Coordinator-Aquatic Biodiversity, WWF-India, New Delhi.