A Rendezvous with India’s national aquatic animal- Gangetic River Dolphin.

Ever since the Gangetic Dolphin was declared the national aquatic animal of India in 2009, it was on our wishlist. Well, no one can see any wildlife of his own wish. All we can do is go to that place where the wildlife is found, take a ride, wait patiently, and pray for the best of our luck. Wildlife tourism is thus an unpredictable trip and that is its charm. You never know what you will get to see.

Gharial- pride of Chambal

Gharial- pride of Chambal

It did not materialise till April 2014. By then we did see another dolphin in India, which is an oceanic dolphin but euryhaline in habit (adapt to a wide range of salinity): Irrawady Dolphin in Chilika lagoon in Odisha.

National Chambal Sanctury, which is also India’s first aquatic sanctuary, is spread over a 400 km long stretch, running through three states – Rajasthan, MP, and UP. Chambal is the cleanest and healthiest river of India and is one of the last few surviving habitats of the Gangetic Dolphin.

Gangetic Dolphin-courtesy Google

Gangetic Dolphin-courtesy Google

One fine morning in April, we packed our bags for Jarar village in UP, our base for a ride in Chambal River(NCS) for spotting Dolphins.

Evening Safari started at four when sun was still far away from turning red. We boarded a silent motor boat but instead of zipping through the water, we just sailed. The boatman knew more than the guide and even before we could spot any wildlife, he turned the boat and took us to as close as possible at a safe (for wild life, not for us) viewing distance.

Indian Skimmer- star of the Chambal avifauna

Indian Skimmer- star of the Chambal avifauna

This sanctuary is home to many migratory birds in winter, but even in April, when only resident species were there, it was abuzz with birds. Owls and vultures on the trees and rocks at banks, saras crane, thicknee, ducks, wagtail, lapwing filled the silence with their flutes and flutter but the star was the Indian Skimmer. Many flew at once, skimmed on water and their orange beaks glistened in sun and in reflection in water. CNS is the proud and preferred nesting habitat of a large number of Indian Skimmers.

Saras Crane

Saras Crane

Wooly necked Stork

Wooly necked Stork

Of the eight varieties of fresh water turtles in Chambal, we could spot two- the Tent turtle and the Soft turtle. Magar and Gharials gave a full view of their mighty scales and jaw. But we did not stop for long. We had paid them our obeisance in the morning safari. The aim of this ride was to reach the spot where the ‘Tiger of the Chambal- Gangetic dolphins’ were probable to be found, by sailing silently and waiting wishfully.

Tent turtle

Tent turtle

The boatman, guide, Manish and I took one direction each. Kids kept on looking everywhere.

For a while nothing happened, not even a ripple. We wished in our heart and kept the eyes engaged on the surface of water. Nothing happened. Sun was changing the color fast now and we had to depart in time to reach the embarking point before dark. Time was ticking by and heart was sinking down. A ripple, then another ripple broke the stillness of water. But it went away before we could ask each other and all could see it. More and more ripples were spotted here and there and we could not get even a dubious look at their long snouts.

These dolphins do not come out of water for as long time as Irrawady Dolphins, rather so less that it is impossible(for us lesser mortals) to take even a video record, what to talk of a photo.

Only Manish spotted one, the long pointed nose, characteristic of all the river dolphins, came out on water surface and before he could even complete the word ‘see’, it was gone. When we all turned to that side, all we saw was ripples. The activity increased and we saw many ripples further up the river. Me and my kids could not spot one. But to know that this endangered species was there and was thriving in the Chambal was enough to feel contended.

Gangetic dolphin is the only freshwater dolphin of India and is found in the river Ganga and Brahmputra and its tributaries. After the Yangtze River dolphin of China went extinct in 2006, it was heartening to listen to the announcement of our river dolphin as the National aquatic animal.

Magar crocodile

Magar crocodile

The Gangetic dolphin (found in Ganga and Brahmputra) and the Indus dolphin (Indus river in Sind province, Pakistan) belong to the same species. Author Sanjeev Sanyal, in his well known book “The land of Seven Rivers-A brief history of India’s Geography” ponders over the lost Saraswati river, asking how these two cousins come to live far from each other in these two disconnected rivers.

“ As already mentioned, physical surveys and satellite photos confirm that the Sutlej and the Yamuna were once the tributaries of the Saraswati…
Unfortunately, the river appears to have lost the Yamuna, perhaps due to a tactonic event…
It then lost Sutlej, its major tributary, to the Indus. The Sutlej is a moody river and has had many channels in the past. Its ancient name Shatadru literally means of a hundred channel. At some time it swung west towards Indus. The old channel flowing east remain visible in satellite photographs….
…Shifting of the rivers may explain one of the mysteries of the subcontinent’s wildlife: how the Gangetic and Indus river dolphin came to belong to the same species. The problem is that the two river systems are today not connected, and the dolphins obviously could not have walked from one to another. The sea route too is unlikely since the mouths of the two rivers are very far. In any case the river dolphins are not closely related to the salt water dolphins of the Indian Ocean and must have evolved separately from them. One possibility therefore is that the shifting rivers allowed the dolphins to move from one place to another.”

Landscape of Chambal

Landscape of Chambal

Recently, India announced to abolish the use of dolphins in aquatic theme parks or to establish a dolphinarium. On my part, I pledge not to see any kind of animal show anywhere, as my duty of being a responsible tourist.

Long live the planet earth and all of its living and nonliving inhabitants!

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