Freshwater dolphins facing extinction threat

Kathmandu, May 26:

A rare species of river dolphins, habituating certain Terai rivers in the country, is facing extinction, experts say.

A report on the status, distribution and conservation threats of the Ganges River dolphins in the Karnali river was released here today at a regional meeting of conservation and management of river dolphins in Asia.

The report says that the Geruwa river had the minimum population of four such dolphins during a survey in medium and low water seasons. A maximum of 12 and a minimum of nine dolphins were counted in the Mohana river, a feeder stream of Karnali river during three surveys conducted in high, average and low water seasons during the monsoons. The report says that the number of dolphins in Geruwa does not fluctuate during different water levels, while the number and distribution of dolphins in the Mohana river entirely depends upon the water level.

According to the report, habitat alternation by floods, intensive fishing and past development interventions like the Chisapani bridge construction, motorised ferry at Kothaghat, the Rajapur irrigation rehabilitation project and an increase in the intensity of agricultural practices in the area have caused a threat to the freshwater mammals. Neera Shrestha Pradhan, an officer at WWF Nepal, said the ecosystem of the Karnali river should be considered as a single conservation unit and priority should be given to the preservation of its components, including fishes that provide food for the dolphins as well as the indigenous people.

“The local communities consider dolphin as a holy animal, as such conservation effort should be built on their existing belief rather than trying to impose a scientific basis for conservation at the very beginning,” she said.

A report in 1986 indicated that there were as many as 23 dolphins in Karnali.

Pradhan added that apart from Karnali, reports have indicated that a number of dolphins were traced in the Narayani river, while the rare mammals were not found in the Mahakali river.

Dr Chandra P Gurung, the country representative of WWF Nepal, said the aquatic biodiversity of Nepal has not come out unscathed from the effects of the irrigation and transport sectors. “Before more damage is done, Nepal must strive to balance economic development with the integrity of the environment,” he said.

Since October 2004, WWF Nepal’s Freshwater Programme has worked on taking up freshwater issues to minimise impacts and threats and promote sustainable utilisation and conservation of wetland resources.