BARPETA, Aug 25 - Following the discovery of a large colony of river dolphins in Nakhanda river in Barpeta district, the forest department, district administration and the local communities are gearing up to secure a safe home for the endangered species.
Also on the anvil is a plan to promote eco-tourism in the scenic area dominated by crisscrossing rivers and forested meadows that also provide shelter to diverse wildlife � the most significant being the black jackal, besides water monitor lizard, golden monitor lizard, python and varied avifauna and a wealth of butterflies.
�There had been instances of killing of river dolphins but we are spreading the message of dolphin conservation among the local people and also making them stakeholders in the conservation initiative. People are realizing the importance of river dolphin and its role in sustaining the river ecology,� said conservationist David Das, who first documented the presence of the dolphin colony in Nakhanda.
Barpeta Deputy Commissioner Thaneswar Malakar and Divisional Forest Officer Girindra Adhikary held a series of awareness meetings among the people inhabiting on the banks of Nakhanda. The growing awareness among the locals was corroborated by the recent rescue of a river dolphin calf after it had got entangled in a fishing net.
�We are for promoting both conservation and tourism in the greater Nakhanda area. The area is breathtakingly scenic and it�s worth stands enhanced manifold by the presence of river dolphins and black jackals. We will involve the local communities so that they benefit from eco-tourism,� Malakar said.
Adhikary said that as the area falls under the civil authorities, the forest department would move the authorities for handing over some 30 hectares of forested land to it for developing it as a protected forest or at least as a reserved forest.
�We will also do some plantation along certain stretches. Tourists will be able to see river dolphins while boating. Another attraction would be trekking in the forest. Regulated camping can also be arranged at a few designated spots without disturbing the natural environment. A watch tower will also allow visitors to see large congregations of migratory birds,� he added.
Abbas Ali Ahmed, a teacher of Taporbori LP School on the bank of the Nakhanda, was upbeat, as the locals were taking interest in conservation of the elusive species following awareness initiatives by the administration. �Children and youths have understood the need for conserving the river dolphin... Moreover, it can earn name and fame for Nakhanda area by turning it into a global tourism destination,� he said.
The sighting of river dolphins at Nakhanda is significant for the species� long-term survival. It confirms a fourth major habitat � the other three being the Brahmaputra, the Kulsi and the Subansiri � for the elusive species which also happens to be the State aquatic animal of Assam.