Most sanctuaries and wetlands in UP are full of birds, both migratory & local
India is a land whose tradition lies in treating the guest as God—athiti devo bhavah—then whether this guest is in human form or a feathery one, no stone is left upturned to provide them a grand welcome and comfortable stay. Every year, thousands of migratory birds travel from one part of the world to the other during winter season and India is one of the much preferred stop-over or even destination. Uttar Pradesh, by virtue of being endowed with some great wetlands and sanctuaries as well as greater initiatives by the forest department and the government to provide them a secure and conducive environment, is literally flocked by these feathery travelers.
Some species have adapted to take advantage of different food sources as seasons change, allowing them to stay in one location all year round. Other birds are better adapted to cold climates with thicker fat reserves and better feather insulation, and they can survive long cold seasons while they forage for winter food. For more than half the world’s birds, however, migration is essential to stay alive.
“There are about 10,000 species of birds in the world, out of which 1300 species of birds are found in India. Around 200 species of birds migrate from Siberia, Mongolia, Western Europe, China, Central Asia etc, travelling at least 10,000 km of distance to reach India. In the Gangetic plains of Uttar Pradesh, these migratory birds get suitable climatic conditions, plenty of food, shelter and safety. Some of the migratory birds that flock these bird sanctuaries & wetlands are common coots, common teal, gadwal, Eurasian wigeon, red crested pochard, mallard, pintail, shoveller, goose etc,” informs chief conservator of forests (CCF) Renu Singh.
“They start coming from the month of October and as the winter season reaches peak so does their numbers when more and more bird groups arrive,” says IFS Praveen Rao Koli, general manager (P) UP Forest Corporation. “By February-March, the birds start their flight back home. In UP, there are 14 wetlands and nine circuits including Bakhira, Vijaysagar, Nawabganj, Lakhbahosi, BETI, Surataal, Sheikhajheel, Sursarovar etc. All these places attract a high number of birds each year,” he adds.
Preparing for Migration
The word migration comes from the Latin word migratus that means ‘to change’ and refers to how birds change their geographic locations seasonally.
“Migratory birds have several physical adaptations that allow them to safely migrate long distances. As migration time nears, they experience flight restlessness called ‘Zugunruhe’. Their hormonal level changes and body temperature rises. They start eating more in order to develop greater energy reserves for the long flight. This process of migration-related weight gain or high binging is called hyperphagia,” explains Renu Singh.
Besides that birds are highly intelligent and know which route is safe for them. If you remember, during the Afghan war, lesser migratory birds crossed that area because they knew they would be trapped and killed. Thus, birds also have keen survival instincts and change routes, destinations even eating habits as per the changing times. This is the law of evolution and birds are the ideal example of it, she adds. They know how to adapt themselves to changing situation and that is the secret of their survival.
Types of Migration
“Migration is critically important in the life cycle of a bird. Without this annual journey many birds would not be able to survive. Birds migrate not only in search of better climate but also to find the richest, most abundant food sources. If the birds did not migrate, competition for adequate food during breeding seasons would be fierce and many birds would starve. Instead, birds have evolved different migration patterns, times and routes to give themselves and their offspring the greatest chance of survival,” says Rao. The migratory birds never reproduce on the foreign shores though and return to their land to lay eggs.
According to him, there are mainly three types of migration: Winter, summer and local. Winter migration is from the north to the south when these birds start migrating from their homes in the Arctic and colder regions for much conducive ones in the other part of the world, including India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka. They fly over the Himalayas to reach us. Summer migration is when they start their journey back to their origin. During that time too various wetlands and sanctuaries witness high influx of birds as different flocks make stopovers on their way home. This is the very reason that bird counting is done twice every year—October and February. It helps us ascertain approximately how many birds arrived, survived and left. The third type of migration is local migration in which local birds shift from one territory to another in the same country for a relatively better climate or habitat. This is also a very important migration and may even happen more than twice a year.
Laying the Red Carpet
Each sanctuary is readied to welcome the migratory birds.
“A number of preparations are done before the arrival of the migratory birds every year-- some much in advance, others just prior to their visit. The lakes and water bodies are cleaned, desilted and water hyacinth in particular is removed. This water plant covers the surface of a waterbody, not only making it difficult for the birds to fish but also for other vegetations and fish species to develop. Hence our priority is to weed it out. However, as every plant has its utility, we do not destroy it completely. Water hyacinth is a good water purifier and hence should be allowed to grow in a restrained way in lakes and ponds,” explains Rao. He adds that they create islands on lakes so that the birds can find a nesting place. Forestation is done. Mainly thorny trees like bamboo are planted as the migratory birds prefer to nest on them. Fruit-bearing habitat management is also done. Trees like jamun, arjun etc are also planted. Maximum greenery, including shrubs and herbs, are allowed to grow so that each bird can find the type of food it likes-- fish, mollusks, insect, fruit, bark, fresh leaves and flowers. Awareness events are held to sensitize people living in the viscinity. These include state-wide bird programmes like Wildlife Week and the bird festival. Boards with warnings and directions/information are placed so that people do not disturb the birds and pamphlets are distributed for their understanding.
“The migratory birds are mainly vegetarian and the local birds are fish eaters. If the wetlands are properly maintained, these birds get enough food in and around the lake itself. They also visit the nearby fields for grains. The farmers are sensitive people and do not harm the birds as they consider them lucky. Generally India has a rich tradition of treating the Nature and its flora and fauna very ethically. Love for them has been ingrained in us since our birth. Our folktales and folklores are all woven around birds, ponds and nature. This is an example of how well attuned we have been towards environment since time immemorial,” points out Renu Singh.
“Many birds visit and stay during winter in the lake area of Kanpur zoological park. We make several preparations. We made sure that the lake was full of water this time. During lean period, it was replenished with water through pipeline from the Ganga barrage. Three islands were already there. One more island with thorny trees was developed in the lake area this time. This supports nesting. For birds’ feed, more than 10,000 fish were put in the lake. This area was kept secluded i.e. no outside or public interference was allowed for their undisturbed stay. Nearly 70 species of birds have been sighted this time, of which 10 are migratory/ local migratory. Nearly 40 species are resident birds which are seen all the year round. The total number of birds sighted on the day of Bird Festival (Dec 2) was 1446 (57 species). However, there are more than 3,000 birds in this area. Major migratory ones include black winged stilt, common redshank, white wagtail, common sandpiper, chiff chap and green bee eater,” informed Deepak Kumar, director, Kanpur Zological Park.
According to Gopal Ojha, DFO Varanasi, there has been an increased in the number of birds counted this time at the tortoise sanctuary. “Bird feeders have been placed to make sure that the winged guests get a proper diet during their stay here as well as a strict vigil is being kept through water patrolling to rule out any possibility of poaching. These birds come down to the river from 8.30 to 10.30 in the morning and go back to their nesting places on the trees or fields by sunset,” he said.
V for Victory?
Some birds, including swans, geese, cranes, pelicans and flamingos, form tight, V-shaped patterns, while others fly together in loose flocks. Renu Singh says the V-shaped formations—called echelon-- help birds to conserve their much needed energy during the long flight. As each bird flies slightly ahead of the other, there is less wind resistance. Mostly the strongest bird leads the formation with the old, weak and injured birds following behind. The birds also take turns to be in the front, with each bird moving to the back when it gets tired. Birds in the rear of the echelon save energy because it is easier to fly in the vortex created by the birds in the front of the echelon. This V-formation also enhances communication and coordination within the flock, allowing birds to improve orientation and follow their route more directly. In a formation, every bird is accounted for. Age, sex and body size also play a role in who leads the V-formation. In a flock of adults and young birds, juveniles usually do not lead since they are less able to maintain high speeds in lead position and would slow the entire flock down. Birds that fly in group formation like ‘V’ or ‘J’ beat their wings less often and have lower heart rates than those that fly alone.
Knowing When to Migrate
Birds have two ways of gauging the changing of the seasons, light and temperature. They have a gland in their brains called pineal gland which is sensitive to temperature fluctuations. This is called photoperiod. Then the angle of the Sun and the overall amount of daily light also help them decide when to migrate. When the timing is right for their migrating needs, they will begin their journey. Several minor factors can affect the precise day any bird species begins its migration, including available food supplies, weather conditions, storms and barometric pressure and air temperatures and wind patterns. While these factors may affect migration by a day or two, most bird species follow precise migration calendars.
The time it takes a single bird to complete its one way migration can range from a few days or weeks to up to four months, depending on the total distance, flight speed, route and stopovers. Birds migrating late in the season typically travel faster than earlier migrants of the same species, even along the same general routes. Hawks, swifts, swallows and waterfowl migrate primarily during the day, while many songbirds migrate at night, in part to avoid the attention of migrating predators such as raptors. The cooler, calmer air at night also makes migration more efficient for many species. Birds that migrate during the day most often take advantage of solar-heated thermal currents for easy soaring so they can fly further using less energy.
One of the greatest mysteries of migration is exactly how birds find their way from one location to the next. Though they are genetically endowed with this specialty, several different techniques of bird navigation have also been discovered.
Magnetic Sensing: Many birds have special chemicals or compounds in their brains, eyes or bills that help them sense the Earth's magnetic field. This helps the birds orient themselves for long journeys, just like an internal compass.
Geographic Mapping: Because birds follow the same migration routes from year to year, their keen eyesight allows them to map their journey. Different landforms and geographic features such as rivers, coastlines, canyons and mountain ranges can help keep birds heading in the right direction.
Sun/ Star Orientation: For birds that migrate at night, star positions and the orientation of constellations can provide necessary navigation directions. During the day, birds also use the sun to navigate.
Learnt Routes: Some birds learn migration routes from their parents and other adult birds in the flock. Once learned, younger birds can travel the route successfully themselves.
Other Clues: Strong scent clues for different habitats, ambient sounds along their routes or even taking clues from other species with similar needs can all help birds migrate successfully.
“Migratory birds have dynamic bodies, rudder like wings to aid flight, strong capillaries, special air sacs in lungs and excellent circulatory system,” Renu Singh says. Birds may fly from 15-600 miles or more per day during migration, depending on when they are migrating, how far they have to go and the conditions they face along the route. Suitable stopovers and abundant food, water and shelter also affect how far birds may travel in a single day. Birds that follow a migration route that crosses an ocean may spend up to 100 hours or more in the air at a single time until they come to land. Their migratory birds have longer, more pointed wings than non migratory species or birds with shorter migrations. This wing structure is more aerodynamic with less air resistance and allows for more efficient, easier flight. Migrating birds travel at speeds ranging from 15-50 miles per hour depending on the species, flight pattern and prevailing winds that can increase or decrease speed. While most migrating birds fly at heights lower than 2,000 feet, birds have been recorded migrating at up to 29,000 feet high.
Bar-headed geese are the highest-flying migratory birds, regularly reaching altitudes of up to five and a half miles above sea level while flying over the Himalayas in India. But the bird with the record for the highest altitude ever is the Ruppel’s griffon vulture, which collided with a plane at 37,000 feet in 1975 and was sucked into its jet engine.
The Arctic tern has the longest recorded migration of any bird on the planet. Banded Arctic terns have confirmed a round-trip migration of roughly 22,000 miles, a feat that astonishes ornithologists and birders alike. The height of a bird's migration flight depends on wind patterns and landforms that may create obstacles, such as mountain ranges.
Speaking of long distances, the northern wheatear travels up to 9,000 miles each way between the Arctic and Africa, giving it one of the largest ranges of any songbird. What makes this an amazing feat is that the tiny bird weighs less than an ounce, on average. The award for fastest bird goes to the great snipe: It flies around 4,200 miles at speeds of up to 60mph. The bar-tailed godwit can fly for nearly 7,000 miles without stopping, making it the bird with the longest recorded non-stop flight. During the eight-day journey, the bird doesn’t stop for food or rest, demonstrating jaw-dropping endurance.
Even with both physical and behavioral adaptations to make migration easier, this journey is filled with peril and there are many threats migrating birds face. Inadequate food and subsequent starvation or lack of energy to travel; collisions with windows, buildings, power lines and wind farms along migration routes; stopover habitat loss from ongoing development or pollution; predators, including wild animals, feral cats and loose dogs; poor weather and storms that cause injury or disorientation; light pollution in cities that disorients birds navigating by stars as well as hunting and poaching. Juvenile birds are at greater risk because of their inexperience with migration.
This Year’s Bird Count
This year the number of birds counted in various mandals included 10,356 in Agra Mandal, 13,351 in Allahabad Mandal, 6,807 in Bareilly Mandal, 4,778 in Faizabad Mandal, 11,462 in Jhansi Mandal, 7,149 in Gorakhpur Mandal, 56,405 in Kanpur Mandal, 27,520 in Lucknow Mandal, 18,101 in Meerut Mandal, 2,917 in Moradabad Mandal,11,654 in Varanasi Mandal, 14,412 in Azamgarh Mandal, 4,617 in Basti Mandal, 5,549 in Mirzapur Mandal, 1,777 in Saharanpur Mandal, 12,197 in Chitrakootdham Mandal, 18,426 in Devipatan Mandal and 22,9278 in Aligarh Mandal.
Engaging events mark 2nd International Bird Fest
The second International Bird Festival Uttar Pradesh held from December 2-4 at village JararBah, Agra. At the bird fest experts and conservationists of more than two dozen countries participated. Many bird lovers and wildlife enthusiasts from across the country also made their temporary abode at the Sarus village at Chambal Safari Lodge.
This thee days mega event started with technical sessions related to birds’ life and their conservation. Eminent speakers including Otto Pfister, Tim Appleton, Bill Thompson and Jonathan Meyrav threw light on issues and challenges in avifaunal species conservation across the globe. The talks of David Lindo, Vanessa Palacious, Michel Chung Lu and Gehan De Silva Wijeyratne were also appreciated.
One of the significant highlights of this mega event was active participation of 200 students of local schools and colleges. They got a chance to observe and learn the bird banding activity to understand the behavioral and migratory knowledge of the important bird species as displayed by the experts of the Bombay Natural History Society. A cultural evening was also held. The participants included Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) S K Sharma, Managing Director, UP Forest Corporation S K Upadhyay, and Advisor, Department of Forests and Wildlife Government of UP, Ram Pratap Singh.
Hope shines with improved number of dolphins, calves - November 2016
Known as the ‘tigers of the river’, it is only recently that concerted efforts have started to control the dwindling number of dolphins in UP. Annual census by forest department and WWF team is one such step
that will go a long way in helping keep a tab on these highly pollution-sensitive creatures
Of all the aquatic creatures, dolphins have always been the most loved and closest to mankind. Their friendliness with humans, witty antics and intelligence has earned them a distinct position. Of them, the Gangetic dolphin is unique to the Indian sub-continent. The population of dolphin in 1982 was estimated to be between 4000-5000 in India, now it is less than 2000. Habitat destruction and absence of meaningful estimate (data) of their range-wise abundance have majorly hindered the development of conservation strategies for the species. Habitat fragmentation and pollution in freshwater ecosystems are the major threats reported for the species and the habitat.
“In 2016 Dolphin Census was conducted in two stretches from Bijnor barrage (District Bijnor) till Narora (District Bulandshahr) and the stretch from Ganga barrage (Kanpur Nagar) till Gagauso Ghat (District Fatehpur) jointly by the World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF-I) and the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department from October 14 till October 25.
These were the same stretches on which censuses had been conducted earlier as well. In comparison to last year an increase in dolphin numbers was recorded; this can be attributed to the occurrence of breeding population i.e. more number of young ones (calves). The availability of deep pools, and eddy counter-currents recorded on these stretches further formed a suitable habitat for the dolphins,” informed Dr Asghar Nawab, senior expert, WWF.
Dolphin census is conducted following a simple technique (Direct Count Method) based on IUCN survey protocol for studying freshwater Cetaceans. Boat surveys are conducted from upstream to downstream and boat speed is maintained between 7-10km/hr. The speed is almost double the speed of the Dolphin i.e. 3.5-4km/hr and kept constant to avoid missing an individual and as well to avoid double count. Four trained observers record the counts which are maintained as Low estimates, High estimates and, Best estimates. The Best estimates are presented as the final count which is the agreed number among the observers. According to Ramesh Pandey, CF, Saharanpur: “The Gangetic river dolphin can play a pivotal role in riverine ecosystems. As flagship species, it can help keep the balance of the riverine ecosystem and benefit the biodiversity of the Ganga.”
“In the first phase (Oct 14-18), the stretch covered was from Bijnor-Narora (192.27 km). The dolphins counted were 30 individuals including 15 female, seven male, six sub adults and two calves. It was more than the last count (2015) in which 22 dolphins were spotted on a 225-km stretch (Bijnor Barrage to Narora Barrage). This indicates that the river health is improving and that the dolphin population has increased. Spotting of calves is yet another positive sign,” informed Mukesh Kumar, CCF, Meerut. Others in the team included Suresh Babu, Dr Asghar, Sanjeev Yadav and Mohd Shahnawaz from WWF; Sushil Awasthi, Cf, Meerut; Ramesh Pandey, CF, Saharanpur and the DFOs of Bijnor, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Amroha, Hapur, Bulandshahr. The stretch from Bijnor barrage (District Bijnor) till Narora (District Bulandshahr) is 255km and includes Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary and the Narora Ramsar site as the Protected Area.
“Dolphins are extremely pollution sensitive and tend to shift their base on the slightest disturbance. Their increased numbers are signs that we have been able to mitigate the disturbances to some extent,” explained Sushil Kumar Awasthi, DFO, Meerut. He highlighted two factors as most important— for the first time river patrolling was done on the entire stretch of the Ganga passing through the Hastinapur sanctuary and young ones were also spotted that indicated breeding of dolphins on that stretch. “This is a very positive sign. It shows that these aquatic creatures have found conducive environment here.
We have been making extensive efforts to curb all illegal activities along the banks of the river that create disturbances for these mammals and we have been successful.” Not denying the possibility of dolphins from other stretches shifting to the Narora stretch, he said: “Yes, it could have happened because the rise in numbers is also noticed in adult population, but even if they have come to this part as a result of a disturbance elsewhere, it is a promising sign that they have found a healthy home here.” He added that more efforts were being made to ensure safety and right environment for them, and a core team of experts including Dr Asad R Rehmani, director, Bombay Natural Society; Dr VC Chaudhary, Haryana Agricultural University; Dr Afifullah Khan, Aligarh Muslim University, as well as members from WWF including Suresh Babu has been formed to further study the traits (disturbances) and suggest solutions that are practically implementable. “We took them on a survey of the sanctuary on November 4 and they inspected each and every part of the same. They suggested that at least half kilometer stretch on the riverbed be used exclusively as grassland because Hastinapur sanctuary is primarily the home to swamp deer or barahsinga and they thrive on grass (doob). Planting trees, or any other kind of encroachment, on that stretch would disturb their food chain. On no condition should the grasslands be damaged in any way. Tree cover should be developed beyond that,” he informed. Plan is also to intensify river patrolling in order to keep a check on all manmade disturbances. In fact, the team members on the boats would be armed with a smart phone with an especial app to click photo on the spot if they notice anything untoward and send them immediately to the head office so that prompt action can be taken.
“We will be ready on all fronts and also ensure proper documentation of every little detail for a co-ordinated team work,” he added. In the second phase (Oct 20-25) 77 dolphins (two individuals per kilometer) were counted on a stretch of 104 km from Ganga barrage (Kanpur Nagar) till Gagauso Ghat (District Fatehpur). Team included the WWF officials, forest officials, 37 BN PAC and the Uttar Pradesh Police Department, Kanpur.
Kanpur Zoo director Deepak Kumar, who was among the team that led the census from Kanpur till Fatehpur, informed: “There was a good number of dolphins at Fatehpur. The count on the entire stretch, otherwise, was more or less the same as was recorded earlier. It is a difficult stretch because most of the pollutants from tanneries etc are ‘poured’ into the river without proper treatment. Then there is the silt from construction work that gets accumulated and reduces the depth of the river—another important factor for dolphins to exist. The Gangetic dolphin requires at least four-five metre deep water. We are working on improving the conditions here.” On the reason for increase in the number of dolphins he said: “This year the rains were good, hence a good flow and level was maintained in the river. This flow also cleansed the river, making it easier for the dolphins to survive and breed. Then the tributaries that join the river at various places also helped maintain a flow in the river. If we want to ensure a better environment for this mammal, we will have to ensure that a proper water level is maintained throughout the year. If it dips any further than 4 metres, it can spell doom for these creatures. The dolphins also change their locations to suit themselves. Another possibility can be that dolphins from other areas could have migrated to this stretch and hence there was an increase in their number. In any case, sighting of calves is a positive sign and chances of them growing into healthy adults are very high because we are keeping a strict check on poaching. Now, what is required is to keep the water clean and flowing at a desired level.”
“In fact, water pollution is critical to any form of aquatic life. A large number of fish in a lake at Kanpur zoo had died due to a dip in the dissolves oxygen level earlier in July. This sudden fall in oxygen level was caused due to the release of affluent by a nagar nigam nullah that opened into the lake. This unexpected incident cost us the life of thousands of small fish though larger ones mainly survived. We installed pumps to clean the water and introduce oxygen into it. Now the dissolved oxygen level is 7 which is good enough. We held talks with the authorities and Commissioner Mohd Iftekharuddin ordered diversion of the nullah to avoid a repeat of the casualty in future. He also got a power sub-station installed at the Kanpur zoo that is providing 24 hour electricity. It is a welcome step because we make special arrangements for our zoo-inmates during winters, like heaters etc.”
According to Anuj Saxena, DFO, Bulandshahr: “It is very important to create awareness among people, especially villagers, and those living in the vicinity of the river. No amount of work would be of any use if the locals do not co-operate, hence we have to work in tandem with the villagers. Another suggestion is to acquire two-km stretch of land on either sides of the river and plant trees or grass on it—ie bring it to forest use. This ‘dedicated’ piece of greenery would then serve as a filter and stop filth from getting into the river. Villagers can be motivated to modify the land use and get an income for that. This income should adequately substantiate what they were earlier earning through that land. Banning plastic and stopping all kinds of illegal activities would be other important steps.”
It may be mentioned here that WWF-India, the UP forest department and the UP government had launched ‘My Ganga, My Dolphin’ campaign in the year 2012 during the Wildlife Week (October 1-7). It was done to celebrate the Ganga River Dolphin Conservation Day on October 5, as on this day the Government of India had declared the Ganga River Dolphin as the National Aquatic Animal. The campaign presented a holistic approach to dolphin conservation in Uttar Pradesh. Surveys were conducted using a unified methodology, conservation awareness was generated and capacity of relevant stakeholders built. The first such census was held in 2012 and the second attempt was in 2015. The 2012 census was conducted along a 2500 km stretch of the Ganga and its tributaries. It involved 150 participants in 18 teams, and 671 dolphins were counted. This formed the baseline data for dolphin count for the state. The 2015 census was held on 3350 km stretch of the Ganga and its tributaries. It involved 200 participants in 20 teams, and 1272 dolphins were counted. There has never been a dolphin count held on national level.
What Makes Gangetic Dolphin So Special? Ganga River Dolphin Platanista gangetica commonly known as Susu is endemic to the Indian sub-continent. It is found in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of India and Bangladesh, while remnant populations are reported from Karnali, and the Sapta-Kosi Rivers in Nepal. 1800-2000 dolphins have been estimated in the current distribution range. The species is listed endangered by the IUCN and is placed in Schedule I in the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. In India the Ganga River Dolphin has been formally adopted as the National Aquatic Animal on October 5, 2009. Ganga River Dolphin is found exclusively in freshwater habitat. It lives in clear, slow-flowing rivers and prefer deep pools, eddy counter-currents located downstream of the convergence of rivers and at sharp meanders, and upstream and downstream of mid-channel islands.
Threats to Existence River science experts claim that the numbers of Gangetic Dolphin have reduced over the decades due to lack of habitat. They are mostly affected by the barrages, dams, pollution, and irrigation projects. Ganga Dolphin live in the most densely human populated area of the world (Uttar Pradesh). Though they are known as the ‘tigers of Ganga’, their total population is less than the tigers in India. Another emerging threat to their survival is the plan to use the river waterways to transport goods. The development of the Ganga for shipping is seen by wildlife conservationists as the single-largest threat to the survival of the species. According to experts, “their numbers is declining mainly due to construction of dams and barrages on the river.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a membership union of government and civil society organisations, listed it as endangered in 1996. Aside from losing habitat to increased developmental work on the river, the dolphins also suffered due to depletion of prey base, accidental mortality in fishing nets and accidents with vessel propellers. The large-scale modification of the river, the proposed movement of numerous ships, may well sound the death knell for the species, opine experts. The species are practically blind, and rely on bio-sonar method to move around. The ships’ noise-levels would disrupt the ability to navigate and find prey.
“Yes, if ships and vassals ply on the river, there is going to be disturbance. However, if planned judiciously the impact can be mitigated to a large extent. If only a selected stretch is used as pathway, leaving the territory of the dolphins untouched, it should not cause as much harm. The area has to be well marked. Precautions have to be taken to ensure no spillage/leakage of fuel, noise control and pollution control measures have to be in place and responsibility fixed,” says Deepak Kumar.
It may be mentioned here that in May 2016, the IUCN too had expressed its concerns to the Union Environment Ministry on this matter. To tackle the threat to dolphins and three other species, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest Conservation launched in 2016 the Endangered Species Recovery Plan for four species of global importance. It included dolphins and had a budget of Rs 100 crore. (The other three species are Manipur's brow antlered deer or sangai, great Indian bustard and dugong). The aim was to ensure that critical aquatic life in the Ganga was not unduly impacted by the Ganga Waterways project.
The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) also informed that there were certain mitigation measures or safeguards suggested by experts including minimizing of dredging, restriction on cargo vessel movement in the protected habitat areas through river monitoring systems and installation of sound mufflers to reduce underwater noise.
Ganges River Dolphins prefer deep waters, in and around the confluence of two or more rivers. They share their habitat with crocodiles, fresh water turtles and wetland birds. Distribution.
The distribution range of the Ganges River Dolphins in India covers seven states namely, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. The Upper Ganga River (in Uttar Pradesh), Chambal River (Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh), Ghaghra and Gandak Rivers (Bihar and Uttar Pradesh), Ganga River, from Varanasi to Patna (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar), Sone and Kosi rivers (Bihar), Brahmaputra from Sadia (foothills of Arunachal Pradesh) upto Dhubri (on the Bangladesh Border) and Kulsi River, a tributary of the Brahmaputra river, form ideal habitats for the Ganges River Dolphin. Characteristics
The Ganges River Dolphin has a sturdy, yet flexible, body with large flippers and a low triangular dorsal fin. It weighs upto 150 kg. The calves are chocolate brown at birth and becomes grayish brown in adulthood with a smooth and hairless skin. Females are larger than males. The maximum size of a female is 2.67m and of a male 2.12 m. Females attain sexual maturity at an age of 10-12 years, while the males mature earlier. The gestation period is 9-11 months and a female gives birth to only one calf, once in 2-3 years. After a calf is born, they will remain with their mother for one year. Typically, they will nurse for an average of two months, then start eating solid food; however, some will continue to nurse as well for up to one year. Many consider the Ganges River Dolphin to be a sub-species of the Indus river dolphin. However a difference in appearance has allowed the dolphin to remain as separate specie. The attributes of this dolphin include a longer beak and large flippers. They are also known because their body is somewhat larger than other species, not only in size, but also in weight. Even the smaller dolphins, which can be around five feet, will be able to get up to a weight that is at an average of 200 pounds. This makes them a large species dolphin, and distinguishes them from other types of dolphins.
Dolphins are amongst one of the oldest creatures in the world along with some species of turtles, crocodiles and sharks. The Gangetic Dolphins are generally blind and catch their prey in a unique manner. They emit an ultrasonic sound which reaches the prey. The dolphin then registers this image in its mind and subsequently catches hold of its prey.
While some types of dolphins can move swiftly in order to capture their food, the Gangetic River Dolphin distinguishes itself by moving slower than other species. For this reason, they will feed in different ways and will always remain closer to the bottom of the river beds. One of the distinguishing features of these dolphins is their capacity to adapt to the changes that happen with the Ganges River. Specifically, the dolphins are known to migrate into different areas of the river when flood season is occurring. At other times, they are found closer to canals and places in which rivers join in order to survive. Much of this is dependent not only on the season, but also on whether the dolphin is traveling with others or is alone. Dolphins are truly man’s best aquatic friend and there are plenty of reasons why. They are widely regarded as being the second most intelligent creatures on the planet after humans. Not only this, but there are many accounts of dolphins protecting people who are swimming in the ocean from natural threats and predators. One such story is about a dolphin named Filippo that saved a young girl from drowning after she fell out of her father’s boat near Italy. Another tale recounts a pod (a group of dolphins) fighting off a shark that was attacking a surfer who couldn’t get away in time. And finally, there is even a documented case of dolphins preemptively stopping a shark attack from taking place by barring swimmers from going any further into the water by forming a dolphin-barricade. Is it any wonder that these beloved sea creatures are man’s best aquatic friend? Dolphins have the capability to recognize themselves in a mirror. Most animals that see a reflection of themselves mistake it as another animal. A report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said dolphins were not only able to recognize themselves, but could additionally recognize changes to their bodies by detecting and observing ‘sham marks’ placed on them by scientists. They have a playful nature that can be easily mistake for ‘showing off’. They have been known to swim alongside ships, using synchronized movements in a practice that scientists refer to as bow-riding. The theory is that much like bird who ride the winds to conserve energy, dolphins ride the forward momentum of the waves produced by boats for the same type of effect.
Dolphins interact incredibly well with one another. They live in pods and rarely separate from their own pod. Not only do they hunt for fish with other dolphins from their pod, but they have also been observed caring for the sick, elderly and injured of their pods. They also play with other members of their pods and often swim in sync with one another. This type of social behavior is more common to the intelligent species. Feeding
The diet of Ganges River Dolphins includes a wide range of fish, turtles and birds that are located around the Ganges River. They are more diverse in their eating habits than other river dwelling dolphins, including diets such as catfish, carp, clams, turtles and occasionally birds. Because this species likes to dwell in the deeper parts of the river, it will also try to find most of its food in a similar area. This is done by swimming close to the bottom of the river floor sideways, while opening it’s snout whenever food is seen close by.
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Mr. Anant Shekhar Misra
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