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Principal Investigator: Nachiket Kelkar, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bangalore, India

Funding year: 2013

Main objectives:


  • To assess overall effectiveness of the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary (VGDS) protected area established for the conservation of Ganges river dolphins, based on their population distribution, persistence and abundance in this protected area and adjacent unprotected river reaches, in relation to habitat variables, river channel stability, threats from fisheries and associated bycatch or mortality risk.

  • To evaluate the impact of conservation and outreach programmes conducted in the Sanctuary area over the past decade.
  • To develop a framework for adaptive management for human resource extraction in the Ganges River and adjoining reaches, to strengthen dolphin conservation beyond protected area boundaries.


Main outcomes:

  • Results show that the VGDS – a protected area especially designated for Ganges River dolphins – has been ineffective for their conservation. They also indicate the limited effectiveness, if any, of conservation, monitoring and awareness efforts over the last 15 years. These findings are discouraging, but are considered valuable given both the new insights provided and highlighting a clear need to think ‘out of the box’.

  • More detailed analyses (population dynamics, abundance estimation, ecological variables and social issues) will improve and expand our understanding of river dolphin conservation  in all its complexity.

  • Analyses raise critical questions about:
    • the emerging paradigm on expanding riverine protected areas;
    • the appropriateness of river dolphin conservation targets;
    • the conflict between conceptual design and project implementation;
    • the costs of ignoring socio-economic complexities in mainstream conservation discourse.

  • The poor effectiveness of the VGDS is considered less discouraging if consideration is given to the fairly large population estimate in the larger region. Estimates show stable patterns of river dolphin persistence in the local area and at larger scales appear positive for Ganges River dolphins as a whole.


The authors caution against either the blind dismissal or unilateral embracement of project results with regards to support for, or against, FPAs such as the VGDS. The project has instead raised pertinent and timely questions on the conservation value of FPAs, how to improve interactions between conservationists and communities, and how concern is allocated to the varied threats affecting the wider Ganges River ecosystem.



Kelkar et al. March 2015. Strengthening the meaning of a freshwater protected area for the Ganges river dolphin: looking within and beyond the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolpin Sanctuary. Kelkar et al. March 2015. Click here to read.