by Bhavani Prakash

Emperor AshokaEmperor Ashoka, the famed Indian ruler (ca. 304–232 BC), converted to Buddhism and was instrumental in the spread of the religion in the Indian subcontinent and beyond.  It’s interesting to see the protection he conferred on several species of animals including the gangapuputaka or the Gangetic Dolphin.

From The Edicts of King Ashoka:

King Asoka, the third monarch of the Indian Mauryan dynasty, has come to be regarded as one of the most exemplary rulers in world history. The British historian H.G. Wells has written: “Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history … the name of Asoka shines, and shines almost alone, a star.” Although Buddhist literature preserved the legend of this ruler — the story of a cruel and ruthless king who converted to Buddhism and thereafter established a reign of virtue — definitive historical records of his reign were lacking. Then in the nineteenth century there came to light a large number of edicts, in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. These edicts, inscribed on rocks and pillars, proclaim Asoka’s reforms and policies and promulgate his advice to his subjects.

The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka, as well as boulders and cave walls, made by the Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty during his reign from 269 BCE to 231 BCE. These inscriptions are dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day India, Nepal and Pakistan and represent the first tangible evidence of Buddhism  (Wikipedia)

The Vth Pillar Edict says:

Ganga on vahana (Goddess Ganga on her vehicle, Puputuka) Source:

Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, speaks thus: Twenty-six years after my coronation various animals were declared to be protected — parrots, mainas, //aruna//, ruddy geese, wild ducks, //nandimukhas, gelatas//, bats, queen ants, terrapins, boneless fish, //vedareyaka//, //gangapuputaka//, //sankiya// fish, tortoises, porcupines, squirrels, deer, bulls, //okapinda//, wild asses, wild pigeons, domestic pigeons and all four-footed creatures that are neither useful nor edible.[42] Those nanny goats, ewes and sows which are with young or giving milk to their young are protected, and so are young ones less than six months old. Cocks are not to be caponized, husks hiding living beings are not to be burnt and forests are not to be burnt either without reason or to kill creatures. One animal is not to be fed to another. On the three Caturmasis, the three days of Tisa and during the fourteenth and fifteenth of the Uposatha, fish are protected and not to be sold. During these days animals are not to be killed in the elephant reserves or the fish reserves either. On the eighth of every fortnight, on the fourteenth and fifteenth, on Tisa, Punarvasu, the three Caturmasis and other auspicious days, bulls are not to be castrated, billy goats, rams, boars and other animals that are usually castrated are not to be. On Tisa, Punarvasu, Caturmasis and the fortnight of Caturmasis, horses and bullocks are not be branded.

The Gangetic Dolphin is the National Aquatic Animal of India and is a protected species. However, despite many national committees to clean up River Ganga,  multiple threats exist along the various river systems where the dolphin inhabits – such as intentional killing for dolphin meat and oil, unintentional killing due to entanglement in fish nets, multiple dams and barrages along the rivers that reduce water levels, fish poison and other chemicals, industrial effluents and sewage.

There are only about 2,000 Gangetic Dolphins left. We need to protect them through legislations, but even more through real time action on the ground, if we have to honour the wisdom of the great king of yore.


By Bhavani Prakash

It’s sad to read about the deaths of several Indus River dolphins in Pakistan recently.

According to Yahoo News:

“Wildlife authorities say they have found the carcasses of six endangered river dolphins in Pakistan over the last month.

Sindh Wildlife Department deputy head Ghulam Mohammad accused on Monday local fisherman, saying their poison and nets were to blame for the deaths of the Indus River Dolphin.

The blind mammal is found only in the Indus River. A 2006 survey put the numbers left in the river at 1,300.

Increasingly low water levels and the spilling of pesticides into the river have reduced the dolphins’ habitat.”

Source: WWF

The Indus River dolphin is now considered a separate species from the Gangetic Dolphin, but it is facing similar challenges to the Gangetic dolphin in terms of pollution of river habitats.  According to Wikipedia:

” The Ganges River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica gangetica) and Indus River Dolphin (Platanista minor minor) are two sub-species of freshwater or river dolphins found in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. The Ganges River Dolphin is primarily found in the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers and their tributaries in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, while the Indus River Dolphin is found in the Indus river in Pakistan and its Beas and Sutlej tributaries. From the 1970s until 1998, they were regarded as separate species; however, in 1998, their classification was changed from two separate species to subspecies of a single species .”

Here are a few videos showing the threats to the Indus River dolphins and the efforts to protect them. WWF estimates there are only 1000 or so left and have been declared as an endangered species. The threats include reducing volumes of water which are siphoned away for agriculture, and toxic pollutants which bio-accumulate. The health of the dolphins is a reflection of the health of the rivers.

1. Protecting the Indus River Dolphin. Click here for video link.

2. A 3 part video by UNDP and IUCN on the Indus Blind Dolphin.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

by Bhavani Prakash

Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, India  is a major centre for leather tanneries, much of it for export to consumers in US, Europe and the rest of the world.  These tanneries let out toxic effluents such as sulphides and chromium salts  into River Ganga, which is home to the endangered Gangetic Dolphins as well as several other species which are threatened by such pollution.

According to the recent article in The Hindu.

The Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board has ordered closure of five more tanneries in Kanpur which were discharging their sewage in river Ganga despite several notices against it, officials said on Thursday.

With this, as many as 69 tanneries in the city have been asked to shut their operations for polluting the river.

According to the Board, despite repeated notices, these tanneries had failed to install primary treatment plants in their units and were discharging polluted water in the river.

Pollution Control Board’s regional officer Radhey Shyam said the orders to close the tanneries have been received and the procedure to shut them down will start on Friday.

The permission to shut down nine more polluting tanneries has been sought from the UPPCB, he said.

Owners of many tanneries claimed that implementation of this decision would affect nearly 50 thousand labourers and leather business worth around Rs. 2,500 crore.

Here are two videos that show the impact of the leather tanning centres.  The first one shows how a “combined effluent treatment plant diverts the waste water from the tanneries, and treats it alongwith domestic sewage water. But efforts are still required to motivate individual tannery owners to set up chrome recovery plants for the treatment process to be truly effective.”

Video link here

The second is a National Geographic Video which shows activist, Prakash Jaiswal’s efforts through the organisation Eco Friends, to halt the poisoning from the tanneries which amounts to 20 million litres per day of sewage and toxic effluents containing, lead, arsenic and mercury, which make many parts of River Ganga around Kanpur a dead zone.

Click here for Video link to Alexandra Cousteau’s documentary: Tanneries and the Ganges River

Photo Courtesy: Daniel Bachhuber on Flickr showing:

“Workers at one of Kanpur’s four hundred tanneries, the city’s primary industry, load hides into well-used tumblers. Treating leather in this manner is a multi-step process requiring chemicals such as chronium and copious amounts of water. After the water is used, and thus highly polluted to human and animal use, it is more often than not piped back to the Ganges without any treatment.”

It was far too early in the morning, but we persisted. We dodged the bodies being carried over our heads on bamboo carriers and we arrived at the Ganges River.

It’s Varanasi. One of the holiest and craziest places I have ever visited in my life. Sitting on the banks of the Ganges in India – a mere couple of hours from New Delhi by train – it is auspicious to die here and if you die somewhere else? You want to come here to be burned on one of the various piers here.

But that’s not what we were doing that morning. Nope. Instead we were trying to find a boat. Why? Well one of the other traditions here is to light little candles and send them floating down the river as an offering to Ganga, who is revered as the living goddess of Varanasi.

We found a row boat and three others – one photographer from National Geographic – to share our morning outing. He took us along the river where we saw people laying-out their laundry and bathing in water that was barely lighter than the colour of soil.

“What’s that?”

“Nothing Robyn, you’re still asleep.”

“No, I swear it’s a fin.”

“You’re right! It’s a dolphin.”

Of all things we would find on the Ganges with it’s pathway to the afterlife and apparent healing powers we also found a…..dolphin!

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the Ganges Dolphin on the Red list of endangered animals and we were watching it glide through the water! It was an amazing sight with the sun rising behind its dorsal fin.


Thanks for visiting this page.

The Gangetic Dolphin Conservation Group (GDCG)  is a non-profit advocacy group to raise public awareness about Gangetic Dolphins, their habitats and conservation efforts.

The objective is also to collate and share information about various conservation efforts related to the Gangetic dolphin and where possible provide “on the ground” assistance, to help in the conservation of highly endangered marine animals in the Indian subcontinent along River Ganges and its tributaries.

About the Gangetic Dolphin:
“The Gangetic Dolphin or the Ganges River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica gangetica) is one of two sub-species of freshwater or river dolphins found in the Indian Subcontinent.

It is found mainly in the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers and their tributaries in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. It is recognised by the Indian Government as the National Aquatic Animal.

The Gangetic Dolphin is listed by the IUCN as an “endangered” species on their Red List of Threatened Species.

The main threats to the species include pollution along the river due to industrial and agricultural chemicals, entanglement in fishing nets and killing for oil and meat which is used as a liniment, as an aphrodisiac and as bait for catfish.

The most important factor for the decline of dolphin numbers is the building of several dams along the Ganges river and its tributaries, causing a segregation of populations, and a narrowing of the gene pool.

In National Chambal Sanctuary, the decrease in river depth and the appearance of sand bars causes danger to the dolphins as the river is divided into small segments.”
(Extracted from Wikipedia)

“Experts estimate the current population of Ganges River Dolphins at around 2,000, with about half of these in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says that in the 1980s, there were around 3,500 in the delta region alone.

According to WWF, the range of the Ganges River Dolphin covers seven states – Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. The upper Ganga (in Uttar Pradesh), Chambal (Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh), Ghaghra and Gandak (Bihar and Uttar Pradesh), Ganga from Varanasi to Patna (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar), Sone and Kosi (Bihar), Brahmaputra from Sadia (foothills of Arunachal Pradesh) up to Dhubri (on the Bangladesh Border) and Kulsi River, a tributary of the Brahmaputra, form its ideal habitats.

The Ganges River Dolphin is one of four freshwater dolphin species in the world. The other three are found in the Yangtze river in China, the Indus in Pakistan and the Amazon in South America.

(Source: ThaiIndian)

Compiling of links/reports/NGO and conservationists information

We will be compiling various news updates, links, reports, and the contacts of various NGOs and conservationists involved with the Gangetic Dolphin.

If you have any information that we may have missed out, or would be useful for us, please do leave a comment below, or write to us at

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Here’s to the Dolphins!!