Anthropogenic pressure has adversely affected nature in many ways. Barrages and dams on river systems have restricted the movement of aquatic wildlife such as the Gangetic River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica), Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) and freshwater turtles.
Post the monsoon when the river and canal levels are high, Gangetic dolphins often get stranded in the canals connected with major tributaries of the River Ganga. Once they enter a duct, there is no way back since the exit points have a number of hurdles. The canals are deficient in fish and dolphins that get trapped face starvation. Fluctuating water temperatures, reduced food source and hazards from objects fixed in the canals are other grave threats, as is hunting.
Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) India and Uttar Pradesh Forest and Wildlife Department attempted 24 rescue operations of stranded dolphins in the last 6 years. All these were rescued from Sharda and Saryu canal systems connected with the Ganga through tributaries, particularly those originating from Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary. Sharda canal system has reported more rescue calls than Saryu. This year too, during the monsoon, TSA-India conducted rescue operations from Shravasti and Barabanki district in Terai Arc Landscape.
These recent rescue operations were quite a challenge for our quick response team, comprising conservation biologists, veterinarians and fishermen. One rescue lasted a little over five hours and culminated in the release of the animal into the Ghaghra River, a tributary of the Ganga. This marked the 25th successful rescue TSA-India has undertaken over the years — an adult male measuring 4.2 ft.
TSA-India is the only conservation organization successfully rescuing stranded dolphins from the extensive canal systems of Ganga river basin. We also reach out to thousands of people living in the adjoining areas in a bid to educate them. A dedicated Aquatic Wildlife Rescue Helpline (888-188-0388) is also operated by Turtle Survival Alliance India for efficient reporting and rescues across North India.
Gangetic dolphins have been thriving in the rivers of the Indian subcontinent for millennia. Being apex predators, their survival is of utmost importance for the health of our rivers. A flagship species, it is also an indicator of a flourishing aquatic ecosystem, comprising a variety of mammals, birds, fishes, crustaceans, molluscs and reptiles.