Conservation and religion join to save Ganges dolphin

Thu Oct 28, 2010 6:31am EDT
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By Henry Foy

NARORA, India (Reuters Life!) - As the sun sets over a serene stretch of the mighty Ganges, a pair of smooth, grey dolphins arch gracefully out of the water, bringing hope that wildlife can again call India's great river home.

Millions of Indians along the banks of the 2,500 km (1,550 mile)-long Ganges depend on the river, but unchecked levels of agricultural, industrial and domestic waste have poured in over the past decades, threatening the wildlife.

Five kilometers upstream from Narora, a five-hour drive west of New Delhi, the 350 megawatt nuclear power station that put this sleepy town on the map looms as a reminder of India's unrelenting drive for industrialization.

In Karnabas, a small village just upstream from Narora, a local drama troupe performs for more than 150 villagers.

"Humans are polluting our river!" an actor playing a Hindu god declared, a WWF banner celebrating World Dolphin Day hanging over the makeshift stage.

"The life of our Mother Ganga is endangered! Please do something!"

Distinguishable from its ocean-going cousin by a long, pointed snout, the Ganges dolphin is one of only four freshwater species in the world. The total population across India, Nepal and Bangladesh is estimated at 2,000, down from 4,500 in 1982.

But along a northern stretch of the holy river, a Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) project is leveraging the religious importance of the Ganges for Hindus to teach villagers the virtues of conservation and protection of its sacred water. The upper stretch of the Ganges, from Rishikesh in the foothills of the Himalayas to Ram Ghat in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, holds great religious significance for Hindus.   Continued...