Dolphin Tale: A Sad End to Nepal’s Fresh water Dolphins

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,

With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swingin’ hot spot.

Don’t it always seem to go

That you don’t know what you got till it’s gone

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

They took all the trees and put ‘em in a tree museum

And they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them.

Don’t it always seem to go

That you don’t know what you got till it’s gone

They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.”

Thus go the lyrics to the song “Big Yellow Taxi” by Counting Crows feat. Vanessa Carlton. Many of you must be familiar with this song as it was a very popular track around the year 2002 or 2003. Pondering over the words, it is easy to come to the conclusion that environmental degradation is a worldwide phenomenon and one of the greatest problems of the 21st century. The same holds true for our country Nepal as well. Our beautiful and tranquil country, once known as  “Shangri-La,” is now in deep peril due to unplanned development and environmental degradation.

Nothing in this world is free and everything comes with consequences. Although economic prosperity and development has reaped materialistic benefits for mankind, it has led to great losses in the eco-system. It is man’s greed and selfishness that has brought the world to its current situation.  We are well aware about these facts as we studied environmental education in school. In those days, I hardly paid attention to the seriousness of the problem and my only concern was passing the exams by mugging up words from the text book. I’m sure it was the same case with most other students as well. But now, almost a decade later, the stark reality hits me. Probably, I’ve become more aware about the effects of environmental degradation and pollution as it has taken a toll on my health. I suffer from acute sinusitis and dust allergy and needless to say, the pollution level in the Kathmandu valley is one of the main contributing factors. The air in the valley is barely breathable and for most people, it is almost impossible to walk on the streets without a mask on.

Health problems aside, we can also see the adverse effects on flora-fauna and wild animals. A lot of our four legged, creepy crawly and aquatic friends are losing their natural habitat and are being forced to perish. We all know about endangered species like tigers, rhinos, red pandas etc. However, one of the lesser known facts is the existence of fresh water dolphins in our country. It is indeed sad to think about the fact that these cute, calm and highly intelligent creatures may soon disappear completely from the face of the earth, even before people realize what they’re worth.


Dolphins top the food chain and their existence indicates a healthy and balanced aquatic eco-system. Their dwindling numbers suggest that the quality of our water systems such as lakes, rivers and streams are fast deteriorating. Four out of a total of seven species of dolphins are known to inhabit the fresh water systems, mainly in Asia and South America. They are: The Yangtze river dolphin, The Amazon river dolphin, The Indus river dolphin and the Ganges river dolphin. Originally, the Ganges river dolphins were spread throughout the rivers of Nepal, India and Bangladesh. However, due to the construction of more than 50 dams, bridges and irrigation projects in the area, the natural habitat of the dolphins has been severely affected. As construction of dams are known to bring about changes to the course of rivers and their natural patterns, it is one of the key factors in destroying the dolphin’s native environment. There are numerous other reasons accounting for the fall in dolphin populations such as hunting, poaching and even accidentally being caught in fishermen’s nets. It is lack of awareness that leads people to think that dolphins are fish, while in fact, they are mammals. (They don’t lay eggs like fish, instead give birth and take care of their young ones. Additionally, they cannot stay submerged in water for a long time and have to surface every few minutes to breathe.)

In the past, dolphins were found abundantly in the Koshi, Narayani, Karnali and Mahakali rivers and their tributaries throughout Nepal. In recent times however, they have been spotted only in the Karnali and Koshi river systems. According to a news report, as of April 2012, a new field based study conducted by a team of young researchers sighted only four dolphins in the Karnali river and its tributaries; Mohana and Geruwa, in the country.

While these beautiful creatures are on the brink of extinction, nobody seems to care. People go about with their daily lives and everyone is interested in making money. So called ‘modernization’ and development is taking place rapidly in the country. Economic development is essential, however, it should not be at the expense of mother nature. Until about twenty years ago, our rivers were brimming with fresh water dolphins only adding beauty to the natural environment. Now, it has come to this; a meager number of four. It won’t be long until the dolphins vanish completely.

It will probably take a miracle to save the fresh water dolphins of Nepal from facing a sad end. There are numerous other creatures that are in equally bad shape with declining populations. If immediate measures are not taken to preserve them, they will soon become history. Concrete jungles are taking the place of lush green forests. We will gradually run out of resources and with the eco-system going completely off balance it will come as no surprise when the very existence of mankind will be threatened. Perhaps, only then will people realize the truth behind what someone wise once said, “Only when the last tree has died, the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught, will we realize we cannot eat money.”



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