Guwahati’s residents voted the Ganges river dolphin as their animal mascot this week—a first for an Indian city. Listed endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the freshwater dolphin inhabits the Brahmaputra river which flows through the city, and also the Ganga and the Indus. This isn’t its first title: The Ganges river dolphin is also India’s national aquatic animal and Assam’s state aquatic animal, but what do these titles really do?
The main purpose is to raise awareness about the animal, and the fragility of its ecosystem. The first step will be to estimate the dolphin population in and around Guwahati, said Jayaditya Purkayastha, the founder of Help Earth, an NGO in Guwahati. The long-snouted dolphin beat out two other threatened local species—the greater adjutant stork and black soft shell turtle—in a vote conducted across the city in places like schools, colleges and malls.
It’s a fascinating animal, if only for the unique way in which it hunts. The dolphin is mostly blind, but uses echolocation to spot prey under water. They are also known for swimming at an angle, trailing a flipper along the riverbed to dislodge potential prey. Unfortunately, the gentle freshwater creatures have been finding much apart from food along the river bed. Its habitat is one of the world’s most densely populated areas, and it is threatened by industrial, agricultural and human pollution; hydroprojects; destructive fishing gear; and hunting for its meat and oil. But Help Earth remains hopeful. In addition to helping with the poll to decide Guwahati’s mascot, the NGO has also been working with civic authorities to streamline conservation efforts and create awareness programmes about urban wildlife like dolphins. If all goes according to plan, they might soon have urban wildlife tours for students in the city.
is Features Writer on National Geographic Traveller India's web team. She's partial to places by the sea and desserts in all forms. When she isn't raving about food, she's usually rambling on about the latest cosmic mysteries. She tweets as @kamakshi138.
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