Cetaceans are found in the Beas River.
The census of one of the most endangered cetaceans in the world, the Indus dolphin (Platanista gangetica minor) – a freshwater dolphin found in the Beas River, is expected to start in winter as part of a Center project. However, the Punjab Wildlife Preservation Wing has taken a step forward to protect not only dolphins but also their natural habitat.
The Indus dolphin is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and, until recently, these dolphins were believed to be endemic to Pakistan. But in 2007, a remaining but viable population of Indus Dolphins was discovered in the Harike Wildlife Sanctuary in Punjab and in the lower reaches of the Beas River. Since its discovery, research has been carried out by the Punjab Forestry and Wildlife Conservation Department in partnership with WWF-India on the current distribution, habitat use and population abundance of the mammal. . The Indus Dolphin was declared a State Aquatic Animal of Punjab in 2019.
âThe count of freshwater dolphins is being undertaken as part of a national project of the central government. At the state level, the government of Punjab has taken the lead in the conservation of dolphins and their habitat. The state government recently sent a proposal to the government of India that focuses on a multi-pronged strategy including habitat management, research, monitoring, advocacy and environmental education â , Gitanjali Kanwar, coordinator – rivers, wetlands and water policy, WWF-India, says The Hindu. âThe project is to be implemented over five years. Emphasis will be placed on collecting data on the spatial and temporal distribution pattern of species and population status through an established and approved methodology. Home improvement will be an important component of the project, âshe said.
âAlong with research, it will be important to involve riparian communities by encouraging community-led biological monitoring. Villages around dolphin occurrence hotspots will be developed as models of community-led conservation. Extension programs will be organized to develop a group of dedicated individuals called “Beas-Dolphin Mitras” [friends and protectors] from the Beas river. The project will also embark on dolphin ecotourism. We will adopt a participatory process to address various issues related to water conservation, including the protection of freshwater habitats and species, âMs. Kanwar said.
The Beas River is home to a viable population of several key aquatic species and the 185 km stretch of the river from 52 Headworks, Talwara to Harike Headworks was declared a Beas Conservation Reserve in 2018.
While the state government‘s proposal for the conservation of Indus dolphins and the restoration of its freshwater habitats awaits approval from the Union’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change , scientific enumeration under the “Dolphin Project” is expected to begin during the winter season in Punjab, which is seen as a key first step towards the conservation effort.
Until now, the count of freshwater dolphins has been carried out in different regions of the country with different methodologies. Today, the Wildlife Institute of India has created a standardized methodology for counting. Based on this methodology, counting of dolphins across the country, including the Punjab, would be carried out.
After that we will have a nationwide tally – this is one of the key steps towards conservation. âThe process of counting dolphins is not an easy task, especially in rivers, as they are visible for a few fractions of a second. Several training workshops have been organized and a few are underway to adequately train those concerned to obtain a reliable dolphin count. We are all ready to start counting in the next few days, âshe said.
Direct counts of Indus dolphins in the Punjab have been conducted since 2008 and indicate that their population is extremely small, numbering less than 10. Numbers have been roughly stable over time and there is no has no suggestion of decline, and calves are sighted. every year, Ms. Kanwar said. Dolphins are mainly found between Harike Dam and the town of Beas and are only very rarely seen further upstream or downstream of this range.
Field surveys conducted jointly by the Forestry and Wildlife Conservation Department and WWF-India clearly indicate two hot spots of dolphin occurrence. The first area is near Verowal and Gagrewal in Tarn Taran district in Punjab and the second further downstream near Karmowala and Mundapind in Tarn Taran district in Punjab, âMs. Kanwar said.