GUWAHATI, July 10 - In an exciting development for the State�s conservation spheres, the endangered Ganges river dolphin (Platanista gangetica) � locally called xihu � has been sighted in large numbers at Nakhanda, the confluence point of Pohumara and Kaldiya rivers in Barpeta district. Rivers Pohumara and Kaldiya meet at the point to emerge as the Nakhanda river.
The sighting is significant as the river dolphin in Assam was believed to be found only in Brahmaputra, Subansiri and Kulsi rivers. The sighting confirms a fourth home for the elusive species which also happens to be the State aquatic animal of Assam.
�It�s indeed a heartening development for conservation. We have sighted around two dozen river dolphins, including calves, in the area. According to the local villagers, the xihu are sighted here mostly during the rainy season,� Girindra Adhikary, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Barpeta, told The Assam Tribune.
David Das, a local conservationist and wildlife photographer, brought the matter to the notice of the State forest department and the administration.
�Two years back I had noticed a number of river dolphins in the area. This July, I again saw them in large numbers and have been able to take some good photographs of them frolicking in water, and one with a fish in its snout,� Das said, adding that he was motivating the villagers about the urgent need to conserve the dolphins.
Das said that the Nakhanda area has a good forest cover and together with the rivers it attracts a wide variety of migratory birds. �Deforestation has been a concern here and the authorities need to stop that. The area has good butterfly and insect diversity as well, besides several mammal species,� he said.
According to Das, the river dolphins are generally seen in the area from April to September.
Adhikary said that the State forest department was engaging with the local villagers for securing a safe environment for the river dolphin which faces multiple threats from poaching for its oil and accidental killing in fishing nets.
Barpeta Deputy Commissioner Thaneswar Malakar said that the administration would initiate measures for the conservation of river dolphins at its latest refuge � the Pohumara-Kaldiya confluence.
�Conservation and tourism can go hand in hand here with the local communities as active stakeholders. The area has a nice sylvan surrounding and we want to add to that through plantation. Picnickers are making this scenic spot dirty but we will put a stop to that. It can emerge as a major tourist destination,� he said.
Once found in abundance almost throughout the State, the river dolphin is now caught in a losing battle for survival, with its numbers restricted to a few rivers.
According to a recent survey, just 200-odd river dolphins are surviving in their limited habitats. The beautiful aquatic mammal is closely linked to Assamese folklore and culture as well.