Panelists: (from left) Dr. Shailendra Singh (TSA/WCS-India), Prof. B C Choudhury (WTI), Prof. Qamar Qureshi (WII), SP Yadav (CZA), Suresh Babu (WWF-India) and Raju Vyas (IUCN/CSG)
Prof B. C. Choudhury, Principal Investigator of Aquatic Projects at Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), spoke about transboundary issues between India and Bangladesh and between India and Pakistan, in the wake of transboundary movement of Gharials. He spoke about how relationships between countries impact the possible free survival of the species and what can be done as the future course of action.
“After it was brought back from the brink of extinction in early 1970s, the Gangetic long-snouted Gharial has been moving freely in the rivers before barrages and dams came into being. India has been constructing various dams and barrages, without taking into consideration the movement of the species and also critical minimum freshwater flow. We are working towards species conservation and we should not be worried about political boundaries but focus on ecological boundaries,” said Prof. Choudhury.
Gharial. Photo courtesy: Arunima Singh
Experts stressed upon the importance of the ecological status of the rivers and about how to maintain the ecological flow, an issue which is riddled with controversies and administrative bottlenecks within a country itself, and which becomes further complicated when two countries are involved.
“We should look into administrative decisions and anthropogenic actions which are changing the ecological requirement of the species. The Gharial’s future in the northern tributaries of the Ganges, particularly in Nepal and India, is a question of how anthropogenically we will manipulate the water. Maintaining the ecological flow of the rivers in transboundary situations, trying to maintain the geomorphological characteristic of a river is far more complex if the river passes through multiple countries. Keeping that in context, IUCN red data book should be used in distributional range of the species, without basing it on political boundaries. An international conservation plan, with a national action plan and province level plan, can be formulated by a species specialist group. A pristine river system network should be created,” said Prof. Choudhury.
Red crowned roof turtle. Photo courtesy: Arunima Singh
Prof Qamar Qureshi, Scientist, Wildlife Institute of India (WII), spoke about threats faced by freshwater fauna, and dolphins in particular. “Almost 90% of the dolphins found across the world are found in India and a small population in Nepal. Some of the major threat to this species is poaching for oil and entanglement in fishing nets. The government has proposed large scale movement of cargo both on the Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers. We need to understand how this move will impact dolphins on a long-term basis. Apart from that, dolphin oil is used for fishing in many areas and determining the number of dolphin causality due to oil extraction is a major challenge. We are working towards a technique to identify dolphin oil and using the amount of oil to calculate number of dolphins poached. We are also working on a device to reduce entanglement and to make it affordable. In addition, since dolphins are blind, acoustic ship movement causes a lot of disturbance with their resource utilisation and navigation,” said Prof. Qureshi.
Dr. Raju Vyas, Crocodile Specialist Group, IUCN, spoke about transboundary conservation of Gharials. “River systems of the Brahmaputra and Ganga pass through India, Bangladesh and some part of Bhutan. Thus, it makes it imperative that all these countries get together and make an action plan for the entire river system and work with a holistic approach,” said Dr. Vyas.
Mr. Suresh Babu, Director, Freshwater Fauna, WWF-India, spoke about dolphin distribution in India and surrounding nations. “WWF-India is analysing the connectivity status of the rivers in India. We realised that only 30% of the rivers are reaching the seas. We need to get India-Nepal and India-Bangladesh to map the connectivity status of the transboundary rivers. This will help us zero down on high biodiversity hotspots and leave these zones untouched. Two consultant actions on river dolphins have been accepted by the CMS secretariat; it talks about restoring the connectivity. We can also look at how the reservoirs can be re-operated, by taking all the tradeoffs and requirements of all species into consideration,” said Mr. Babu.
Dr. Shailendra Singh, Associate Director (Aquatic Wildlife), WCS - India, spoke about the impact of river barrages on freshwater fauna. “Many freshwater fauna - like dolphins coming out of the barrages - end up in canals and many are left stranded. The problem between Narayani and Gandak rivers due to barrages and other issues are arising due to them,” said Dr.Singh.
Dr. SP Yadav IFS, Member Secretary, Central Zoo Authority (CZA), India stressed upon raising awareness and community partnership for the cause of freshwater fauna conservation. “Illegal poaching and smuggling of turtles and other freshwater fauna are rampant. Thus, it becomes imperative to raise awareness about the issue and carry out capacity building programs for frontline staff like officials from the Forest Departments and transport sector, like the railways. We also need an intelligence system working actively in this area. CMS CoP 13 has provided India with an opportunity to kickstart actions on the ground and believe in our cause. We can achieve much with the help of government agencies and civil societies,” said Dr. Yadav.