BHOPAL: Top wildlife officers of Madhya Pradesh have planned India's first ambitious project to translocate Gangetic dolphins from one river to the other as a last resort to save the species from extinction. Population of Gangetic river dolphins in India dipped to nearly 1,800 this year from 5000 in 1982. Director Satpura Tiger Reserve (STR) R P Singh sent a proposal to the state forest headquarters to shift these mammals from Chambal river in Morena district to Denva river in the core zone of Madhai forest area in Hoshangabad district. If approved, these dolphins will be reintroduced in waters, 600 km from its natural habitat. "Pollution of Chambal river won't allow them to survive. We have neither recorded significant growth in population nor was a proper conservation effort ever made. I proposed shifting to a safer location," Singh told TOI. Experts are, however, worried. "I don't think translocation is possible. Ganges dolphins have an elaborate mating behaviour. Hence, this animal should be treated with extra care. My experience on ecology and behaviour of river dolphins for 5 years in Ganges and Brahmaputra shows it requires deep water for breeding," said R S Lal Mohan, member, Cetacean Specialist Group of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Referring to Lal's opinion, STR director says, "I know this has not been tried before, but it doesn't mean it cannot be done. There should be a detailed study from national and international researchers on this mammal." Dr Sandeep Behera, former Dolphin Coordinator at WWF-India, under the wetland programme is against shifting of habitat. "I feel, it is not wise to attempt such trials on such sensitive and rare animals. It will be always wise to preserve its natural habitat, giving importance to its natural behaviour," he said. A joint survey carried out by MP forest officials, their Rajasthan counterpart, Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and World Wildlife Federation (WWF) in February, states that 71 dolphins were found in Chambal river (in the 222 km stretch from Sarseni to Chakarnagar area) this year compared to 91 in 2009. This particular region holds 80-81% of total dolphins in Chambal. The count will be zero in next five years if proper steps are not taken, warn experts. "It's alarming. We have submitted our report to the state headquarters with threat analysis and necessary recommendations," said Rishikesh Sharma, expert on aquatic animal species posted at Morena.

He was a key member of survey team. Sharma also published a research paper - Status of Gangetic Dolphin in National Chambal Sanctuary after 30 years - which recommends immediate conservation programme for survival of dolphins. In 2009, Gangetic dolphins were declared as national aquatic animal of India in the first meeting of National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) chaired by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in October 5, 2009.

Source: Times of India (Dated 21 May 2015)