River dolphins are known to be accurate indicators of a river’s health. If their numbers decline, as they have been for decades, it means the rivers are polluted, there is overfishing, they are entangled in fishing nets, or new dams are preventing their migration for breeding.
Over the years, the total number of Gangetic dolphins have decreased from 5,000 to less than 2,500. They used to be present in all of Nepal’s big rivers like the Kosi, Gandaki and Karnali. But except for the Karnali the other two are both dammed at the Indian border for irrigation and flood control, and the numbers in Nepal have dramatically declined.
“Although Gangetic dolphins visit our rivers annually in the monsoon, increased pollution of the rivers and the poaching for food has seriously depleted their numbers,” says dolphin conservationist Vijay Raj Shrestha, who noticed that the dolphins appeared earlier than usual this year possibly because of heavy pre-monsoon rains and the lack of disturbance due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
The government is now trying to declare the confluence of the Mohana and Pathriya as a Dolphin Conservation Area, ban the use of fishing nets and prevent plastic garbage dumping and use of fishing nets in the rivers.
Wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world used to flock to Kailali to watch dolphins, contributing to the local economy and spreading awareness among local people about the importance of conserving the rare mammals. However, visitors had to rough it because of the lack of standard hotels and difficult access through dirt tracks.