by Heather Lowe
Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA-India) along with the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department (UPFD) recently rescued a 6.2 ft long male Ganges River Dolphin. It took more than two days and one night to recover the dolphin, which had strayed into a canal near the town of Badosaray in Northern India. The animal appeared unable to find its way to the main part of the river and was in tertiary canals, far from its ideal habitat, when it was observed.
The Ganges River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica gangetica), an endangered cetacean and the national aquatic animal of India, can be found in Ganges and Brahamaputra river systems. The species is listed under Schedule I (maximum level of protection) of Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act. As few as 650 individuals survive in the fast flowing waters of Uttar Pradesh as per the last census in 2012. Every single animal is extremely important due to the rapidly declining population within the state.
The receding water level in the canal and a cheering, curious crowd (with more than 2000 local people) warranted an immediate rescue operation. After receiving the timely information, swift action was taken. Equipped with rescue apparatus and veterinary drugs, the TSA team was dispatched to respond to the situation within two hours of receiving the call. During the first day of operation, the animal could not be confined in the channel due to rapid water movement and insufficient netting equipment. It was determined that the netting would require reinforcement.
After concluding the first day of the rescue operation, the animal was exhibiting sluggish behavior, as indicated by intermittent surfacing for air. At that point, the operation was discontinued for the night as a precautionary measure since it is common for Ganges River Dolphins to get stressed and decline very quickly. A veterinarian from TSA’s Laboratory for Aquatic Biology (L.A.B) at Kukrail Gharial Center joined the team and was on call in the event of a medical emergency. Close monitoring of the dolphin continued throughout night to closely track its movement, which was helpful in formulating a new strategy for swift confinement and capture the next morning.
After capture, the animal was laid on a water soaked thick foam mattress on a loosened bamboo cot. The animal was covered with wet cotton-sheets and carefully held by four members of the rescue team. This low cost transportation method was developed and tested by TSA’s rescue team during previous rescues of aquatic wildlife. To avoid any possibility of dehydration, water was continuously applied to the dolphin’s back during the 28 minute drive to the release site. The dolphin was examined for general body condition and was found fit to be released. The animal was released near Ghaghraghat into the Ghaghra River, which harbours a sizeable population of the species and relatively free from any immediate threat. A team from TSA’s Terai field conservation center remained in the area to observe the dolphin’s health status.
The rescue team included Dr Shailendra Singh, Mr Bhasker Dixit, Dr Disha Sharma, Mr Mahendra Pratap Singh, Mr Santram and Mr Bablu Nishad from TSA. The operation was conducted under the guidance of Dr Rupak De, PCCF, Uttar Pradesh and under onsite supervision of Mr PP Singh, DFO, Barabanki. Logistic support was provided by Mr Raj Kumar Srivastava, RO, Ramnagar and his staff. Mr Sanjay Srivastava, CF, Endangered Species Project is thanked for providing necessary equipments from recently developed wildlife rescue unit at Kukrail Gharial Centre, Lucknow. We’d also like to thank Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund for providing necessary support and staff time.