The World Bank will help in conserving the endangered Ganga river dolphins, popularly known as the Gangetic dolphin, the bank's president Robert B Zoellick said in Patna on Wednesday.
"World Bank will help and cooperate the initiatives taken by the government of India for conservation and protection of the Ganges river dolphins," Zoellick said after taking a brief tour of the Ganga river.
Zoellick, who arrived on a two-day visit to Bihar on Tuesday night, was accompanied by environment minister Jairam Ramesh and R K Sinha, an expert on the Ganga dolphins.
Zoellick said that he was excited to watch the dolphins, which were declared the national aquatic animal two years ago.
"It was amazing and I enjoyed the trip to watch dolphins from close range," he said.
He also lauded the ongoing conservation efforts.
Introducing the conservation action plan for the Ganga dolphin last year, Ramesh said that protecting the dolphins was crucial for the welfare of the river's ecosystem.
The action plan for the conservation of the Ganga dolphin has been prepared under the auspices of the central government's National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), the co-ordinating authority to address the problem of pollution in the Ganga.
NGRBA is also funded by the World Bank.
Sinha told IANS that he had apprised the World Bank president and the environment minister about the importance of these dolphins for the river, the various sources of pollution and steps needed for their conservation.
"If the dolphin numbers increase, it will be a sign of a clean river. If the numbers decrease, it is a sign of increasing pollution," said Sinha, who is known as the dolphin man of India.
Sinha said their numbers are dwindling due to fishing, pollution and disruption of their habitat because of dams.
The Bihar government is planning an awareness campaign among fishermen in the state for conservation of the dolphins, officials said.
There are only about 2,000 Ganga river dolphins left, down from tens of thousands just a few decades ago.
It 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.
The Ganga river dolphin is blind. It finds its prey in the river water through its echo. These dolphins are found in India, Bangladesh and Nepal.