In great news for environmentalists and nature lovers, the population of the endangered Gangetic river dolphin has grown to 223 from about 175 last year at the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary, India's only dolphin sanctuary, located in Bihar.
This was revealed in a census conducted recently by the Vikramshila Biodiversity Research and Education Centre (VBREC) of Tilka Manjhi Bhagalpur University (TMBU).
"It is a positive sign that the Gangetic dolphin's population is increasing," said Sunil Choudhary, coordinator of VBREC.
The Gangetic river dolphin is India's national aquatic animal, but frequently falls prey to poachers. Their carcasses are found regularly on river banks.
Gangetic river dolphins are being killed at an alarming rate in Bihar. Wildlife officials say poachers kill them for their flesh and oil, which is used as an ointment and aphrodisiac.
There are only about 2,000 Gangetic river dolphins left in India, down from tens of thousands just a few decades ago.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), in the 1980s, there were around 3,500 dolphins in the Ganga delta region alone.
Choudhary said the experts conducted the census during Oct 22-24 at the Vikramshila Dolphin Sanctuary, which is spread over 50 km along the Ganges river in Bhagalpur district, about 200 km from here.
"Gangetic river dolphins have registered an increase of 27 percent in the past year. About 223 dolphins were counted by the experts during the latest census, compared to 175 dolphins spotted last year during the survey," Choudhary said.
VBREC had started the dolphin census in 1998. At that time, the population of the aquatic animal stood at just 95-98.
Choudhary added that in February 2012, VBREC would conduct another survey on the riverbed to tally the census.
He said the increase in the number of dolphins indicated a balanced eco-system and that the breeding of the species has gone up.
He said the increase in numbers was encouraging, but it was time to revaluate methods to conserve the species.
Set up in 1991, the sanctuary has reported frequent killings of the aquatic animal in the last one year.
Gangetic river dolphins fall under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act and have been declared an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
R.K. Sinha, an expert on Gangetic river dolphins and chairman of the working group for dolphin conservation set up by the central government, said poachers have been killing dolphins in the Ganga, particularly in Bhagalpur and Patna.
Early this year, the Bihar government has decided to set up a task force for conservation of the endangered species.
The Gangetic river dolphin is one of the four freshwater dolphin species in the world. The other three are found in the Yangtze river in China, the Indus river in Pakistan and the Amazon river in South America.
The Gangetic river species - found in India, Bangladesh and Nepal - is blind and finds its way and prey in the river waters through 'echoes'.