*MESSAGE FOR TODAY
There are two things for which animals are to be envied: they know nothng of
future evils or of what people say about them.
Endangered river dolphin
***Human interference has altered for worse eco-systems in every corner of
the globe. Ironically, scientific developments have hastened its deleterious
impact, with faunal and floral species bearing the brunt of man's rapacity
and capacity to destroy. The number of endangered species in the Red Data
Book of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural
Resources has increased each year. Nowhere is this as tellingly visible as
in Assam, once described by naturalists as a paradise for wild-life. Being a
region with a high number of aquatic bodies, with the mighty Brahmaputra and
its numerous tributaries at the core, Assam was once rich in aquatic life.
The gharial, or freshwater crocodile, had been abundant in rivers and swampy
shallows. Rivers teemed with turtles as late as the first half of the
twentieth century, authors such as Lakshminath Bezbaruah testifying to their
abundance in writing. Equally ubiquitous had been the Gangetic river
dolphin, locally known as the sihu. There are graphic accounts by
steamer-travellers in the past of a host of these playful and friendly
creatures frolicking by the side of a vessel as it made its way across the
Brahmaputra. Unfortunately a number of causes, including poaching for its
oil, entanglement in fishermen's nets, human over-exploitation of rivers
etc. have caused the number of this species to dwindle alarmingly. Latest
figures estimate their number in Assam to be merely 265, with 212 in the
Brahmaputra, 30 in Kulsi and 23 in Subansiri.
This dismal scenario entails that a concerted effort be made towards
conserving the river dolphin and organisations such as Aaranyak have to be
lauded for their role in such an endeavour. Due to their conservation work,
the number of this species in Assam has reportedly shown a marginal increase
from 250 in 2005. The low intensity of the increase is not surprising,
dolphins being mammals and thus with longer gestation period. Moreover,
conservation of an aquatic species is fraught with difficulties not
associated with land-based species. Rivers being free-flowing, aquatic
animals are not sedentary and cannot be confined to protected reserves. The
sole recourse for conservation agencies is to raise the level of awareness
among people around habitats as to the possibility of species extinction.
That Aaranyak has developed a network of community-based volunteers in
dolphin inhabited areas is a right step in this direction. Equally important
is that man-induced interference in the habitats of aquatic species like the
river dolphin be kept to a minimum, mega hydro-electrical projects being a
major culprit in destroying aquatic fauna. The proposed seismic survey of
the Brahmaputra river bed by Oil India Limited is another case in point.
Because of inadequate precedents, it is imperative that an impact assessment
study, particularly on forms of aquatic life such as the Gangetic river
dolphin, be embarked upon before such an operation is launched.
United against elephant polo
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