Conservation education programme for saving the Ganges River Dolphins

Preeti R. Kanaujia and Dr. Abdul Kalam, Centre for Environment Education, Lucknow

The Ganges River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica gangetica) has been notified as the national aquatic animal of India. It is popularly known as Souns or Susu in Hindi. Small fragmented populations, are found in the Ganges, Bramhaputra, Karnaphuli-Sangu and Meghna river systems and their tributaries from the foothills of the Himalayas to the tidal zone in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and probably Bhutan.

Found in large numbers till a few years ago, their population has come down considerably and ranges between 2500 and 3000 individuals throughout its distribution range in the river systems of India, Nepal and Bangladesh. More than 80% are found in India.

Ganges River Dolphin is one of the four freshwater dolphins in the world. It is listed in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 of Govt of India, recognized as ‘Endangered’ by IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and in Appendix 1 of the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

The threat to the mammal is largely due to the degradation of its river habitat and poaching. The Ganges river system is home to roughly one tenth of the world’s human population and thus suffers from enormous pressure on its resource. A major threat to the Ganges River Dolphin has been due to extensive damming of rivers for irrigation and electricity generation, oil exploration, underwater noise which isolates its populations and prevents seasonal migration. Other threats include chemical pollution, boat traffic, hunting and human disturbances, accidental entanglement in fishing nets. The poaching happens mainly for oil, fish baits and food by local people.

In order to conserve this species, it is important to build an understanding about the species, their life cycles, habit and habitats. Unless people understand and appreciate why the Ganges River Dolphin should be protected, it will be an uphill battle to protect them. Education and awareness programmes can help in developing a sensitive and informed population. With this aim, CEE with the support from Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), initiated a two-year long project in July 2010 focusing on a conservation education programme in the North, Eastern and North Eastern region of India.

Identifying Locations and Issues
Research papers, reports, books, news articles on studies done on the dolphin were reviewed to understand the current status of the species. Experts working in the region were consulted for their views, observations, concerns etc on the endangered species. This helped to identify the areas where dolphin sightings have been reported.

The CEE team selected 5 locations in Assam, 6 locations in Bihar, 7 locations in UP and 2 in West Bengal based

on the records of dolphin populations in the area. In each location, the level of awareness about the species was different. The issues related to river conservation were also varied in terms of religious activities, pollution level etc.

The District Inspectors of Schools (DIOS) in the selected districts were consulted for their inputs and cooperation in developing the school outreach strategy. Similarly at most of the locations, Divisional Forest Officers (DFO) were contacted to understand the status of dolphin sightings in the area, and the type of awareness programmes already being undertaken by the Forest Department.

“ In spite of being a flagship species existence of the Ganges River Dolphins is in grave danger. A species focused conservation education programme with schools can help enhance public awareness and garner support for its protection” says Preeti P.R Kanaujia, Programme Coordinator, CEE Northern Regional Cell, Lucknow.

The school program

In each of the 20 selected locations, a cluster of 25 schools was formed to conduct the awareness activities. A local partner agency was also chosen to work with schools and conduct the awareness and education activities. Schools located around dolphin habitat and schools with students from around dolphin habitat were preferred when inviting schools to participate.

The partners selected for the conservation programme were oriented by CEE for organizing the teachers training workshops and conducting the education and awareness activities in their respective school cluster.

Each teacher conducted school activities based on the dolphin book in their respective schools. Representatives of partner agencies help teachers in conducting the activities. A school visit reporting format is used to record the school activities conducted by NGO partner in their respective cluster.

Each NGO partner organized two days Teacher’s training at their clusters. A two-day dolphin camp was organized for teachers and students of one active school from each cluster. A Dolphin Mela is being organized at each cluster to display the learnings from the programme.

Information, Education and Communication (IEC) Material

CEE has developed a brochure, a dolphin poster and a resource book on the Ganges River Dolphin. The brochure gives information about the species and an overview of the two year long project. The poster showcases this elusive species with relevant important information.

The resource book is meant for educators at schools. It povides details about the life cycle of the GRD in an illustrative story format with activities. The resource book has 11 chapters containing activities, and is written in a way that science and social science teachers can easily link it with their existing curriculum. Besides this guidance a nukkad natak, puppet show and planning for a dolphin mela are provided, to help link the conservation education programme from schools to communities.

Expected Outcomes and Future Plans
It is hoped that the Dolphin Conservation Education will help create wide-spread awareness about dolphin conservation among communities living close to dolphin habitat.

In the next phase, the plan is to enhance the community outreach efforts. It will include consultation with fisher folk and development of alternative livelihoods so as to reduce their dependence on fishing in dolphin habitat.

For more information contact:

Preeti R. Kanaujia/ Dr Abdul Kalam
Centre for Environment Education 19/323,
Indira Nagar, Lucknow 226016, Uttar Pradesh
Ph: 0522-2716628; Telefax: 0522 2716570

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