Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Outreach efforts

Mural at St. Joseph's in Bhaglapur, India
(Photo: JLewis, TDRF)
Teaching children about their own local wildlife is important. If they learn to appreciate and love the animals and plants around them when young, they will be more likely to want to preserve them when they are older. All of the researchers we have followed for this film have made it a point to take time to bring the information about the animals they study to local children.

Today we head to a local school (St. Joseph’s), a K-12 school which is incredibly impressive for the location. Many of the people of Bhaglapur suffer from extreme poverty. There are not a lot of resources in this area of India. This school, established in the early 1980’s, has grown and now caters to somewhere near 4000 students. The people who developed this school and who work to continue to make it better have done incredible things. They even have created a fossil garden for the students.

Dr. Choudhary and I both get the chance to present to some of the older children about the work that each of us does with dolphins. They have great questions for us, wanting to learn all they could about dolphins while they had the chance to ask. They were aware of the Ganges dolphin (thanks in large part to the work of Dr. Choudhary) and after we finish, we get the chance to see art work they made depicting the dolphin in its habitat.

We then get a tour of the whole campus which is fantastic. Most impressive to me, is one of the ways they have decided to decorate the halls of the buildings. They have chosen many inspiring phrases that have been carved into all sort of objects and hang on the ceilings and walls everywhere.

Sign in St. Joseph's, Bhaglapur, India (Photo: Jlewis, TDRF)

Monday, February 24, 2014

On the Ganges

Today Dr. Choudhary has arranged a trip on the river where I can observe the research team in action. His students study the health of the river by taking environmental measures and also by surveying the types of plants and animals found in different locations.

Dr. Choudhary's students collect samples of plankton as we move along the river (Photo: JLewis, TDRF)

The team looks for dolphins today along the eastern half of the Sanctuary. Of the maybe 1000 Ganges river dolphins left throughout their entire range, it is possible that 100-200 live along this stretch of the Ganges. So this region is critical for conservation of this species.

Dr. Choudhary (front left) and his research team watch for dolphins and record data about them when located (Photo: JLewis, TDRF)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A day of interviews

I spent the day today on the campus interviewing Dr. Choudhary. What is fairly interesting is that he began his career as a Botanist (person who studies plants). And in fact he is a faculty member of the Department of Botany. This is a very big part of this campus and they in fact have a graduate program just for botanical study.

Dr. Sunil Choudhary, Bhaglapur University, India (Photo: JLewis)
Dr. Choudhary was asked to join the efforts to study the Ganges river dolphin after other researchers/managers noted a gap for this type of study near Bhaglapur University, and he was asked to fill that gap. He has since been trained under a Fullbright fellowship where he spent time in the United States working with many well known dolphin science teams. He has now published many papers on the Ganges river dolphin and is considered an expert on the subject. 

I also get the chance to start interviewing and following Subhasis. Subhasis began as a student at this University. He now works alongside Dr. Choudhary as basically the field manager. I quickly learn that he is absolutely instrumental to the success of this group to make any changes to help preserve the dolphin in this area. Subhasis has gotten to know the local fishermen and gained their trust and support. Dolphins and fishermen can be competitors. Subhasis has begun a program where some of the fishermen (called friends of the dolphin) work for him to help collect data on fishing activity in this river within the Sanctuary. They need to determine how many fishing methods are being used, and how frequently so they can have a better understanding about the impacts on the local fish communities.

Subhasis Dey discusses work on the river with one of the local fishermen (Photo: JLewis)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Learning about Bhaglapur

Today I get an introduction to the area with a quick trip out onto the Ganges river.
Dr. Sunil Choudhary (Photo: JLewis)
Subhasis Dey, who manages the activities of the lab and also conducts his own research, met me early in the day and brought me first to meet Dr. Choudhary at Bhaglapur University to further discuss the objectives of my filming activity in India. We then went to the river where I was able to learn more about the current situation there.

Subhasis Dey (Photo: JLewis)
Raw sewage enters the Ganges River (Photo: JLewis)

The Ganges river dolphin faces many problems. The issues here are extraordinarily complex. Raw sewage pours directly into the river where we climb onto boats. Fishing nets cover large expanses of the river. A brand new bridge also now brings more traffic to this side of the river.

Bridge across Ganges (Photo: JLewis)

I talk with Subhasis while on the water and we actually get to see a number of dolphins. It is estimated that a large number of dolphins (maybe up to 150) may regularly use this stretch of the river within the sanctuary.  While protected under the law, there is no enforcement of these rules to date. Like in Bangladesh, the use of the blue tiny mesh size nets for capture of everything…is also increasing in popularity. In addition to the “normal” issues, here in Bihar there is another layer. Control of the fishing activities occurs through a criminal element similar to what we know in the states as the mafia (similar in at least to the way the system works). 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Getting to Bhaglapur

Eight hour ride from Patna to Bhaglapur (Photo: JLewis, TDRF)
Traveling to Bhaglapur was tricky, but not impossible. There is no airport, the nearest (in Patna) is an 8 hour car ride away or a 5 hour train ride. Because you cannot purchase train tickets online without being Indian, I had to opt for the car hire.
You can see Patna (the capital of this region) and Bhaglapur along the Ganges

Bhaglapur is located along the Ganges river in a spot which is almost in the center of the
Street in Bihar, India (Photo: JLewis, TDRF)
only sanctuary in India created specifically for the protection of the river dolphin. This is the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary, which includes about 50km of the Ganges in this region of India (Bihar). 

The group I will be following here all work under Dr. Sunil Choudhary who is a professor at the Bhaglapur University. Dr. Choudhary and his students have worked for many years now studying the dolphins along this stretch of the Ganges. I meet up with both him and Subhasis Dey (lab and field manager) late in the day when I arrive and we plan for the next few days of filming.

Dr. Sunil Choudhary (in back) and Subhasis Dey at Bhaglapur University 
(Photo: JLewis, TDRF)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Travel Day

I get up at 4am for my final visit to the Kathmandu international airport. I have one day off before I have to show up at the next location in India, so I decided to spend it in Jodpur (the blue city), and practice filming some more there. It turns out to be a fantastic place to do just that!

Jodpur, India. You can see the fort above on the hill and the "blue city" below (Photo: JLewis)

From there I head to my next location which is in the area of India called Bihar. This is in the north not too far from the border with Nepal, and also not far from the border with Bangladesh. The town I am heading to is called Bhaglapur, which is on the Ganges river. There I am meeting and following a group of researchers that work though Bhagalpur University. This will be the final group of conservationists I will be following for the film. I cannot wait to meet them!

The region of Bihar highlighted (Source: Wikipedia)