It is great to be able to mix other passions with travel, and we were pleasantly surprised when we found out that our enthusiasm for cetaceans, and specifically for dolphins, would have a place in a remote area of Nepal. Yes, you read well! Although most dolphins live in marine habitats, there are a few species (5 if we’re right) that call fresh waters their home, one of them being the Gangetic dolphin.
We had the pleasure to meet Dolphin Conservation Centre’s Founder Mr. Bhoj Raj Shrestha, who has devoted several decades to the conservation of the Gangetic dolphin in Nepali waters. Not only is he a wonderful host and guide, but he is also a young spirited and energetic 80 year old man who gives it all for the preservation of the environment and for these amazing creatures.
Mr. Shrestha took us to his home in Basani, where his bedroom and office share the same space with all DCC awards, his most meaningful dolphin-related memories and books. DCC received the Abraham Conservation Award in 2007, 2010 and 2011, among others, and Mr. Shrestha has published a book and given talks about the Ganges river dolphin in various conventions. Another cool aspect of his home is that smoking, plucking flowers and the use of plastics are prohibited, and it is full of signs about ecology.
Bhoj Raj Shrestha’s merit lies in having no scientific background and hardly any financial support for the cause, but with the help of only volunteers, the DCC gives talks to over 2000 students every year about the importance of not harming the dolphins and respecting them, making them more aware about the preservation of the environment.
Some of the biggest achievements of DCC include:
- The collection of over 5000 slingshots.
Mr. Shrestha showed us some big bags full of “catapults” (slingshots) voluntarily given by children who used them to shot at birds or at dolphins when they approached the surface of the water to breathe.
- Halting the introduction of toxic chemicals in the water.
Villagers used to throw poison to kill and catch fish in the river in the areas where dolphins live, but this is not the case any longer. Children were also educated about this issue, which at the same time helped educate their parents. Additionally, no pesticides are used in the crops surrounding the river bank.
The plantation of trees in a private forest where students used to attend seminars about ecology.
On our second day with Mr. Shrestha, we visited the Shrestha Private Forest, a piece of the family’s own land in Thapapur that was devoted to plant trees and where an environmental education center was established. All the installations are now in decay and have also been vandalised by probably locals in search for wood and construction materials, but we could imagine it a decade ago, full of activity and young students learning about the regional wildlife.
Biplab, Mr. Shrestha’s grandson, explained to us that the river brutally changed its course, taking with it many of the trees and forcing the family members to relocate the buildings. Since the forest installations haven’t been used for some years, Mr. Shrestha is looking to restore them if he obtains the funds he needs. Some trees were planted in honor to people who made a significant action for others (isn’t that a neat way to acknowledge someone? if you ever want to give me a meaningful present, you know what you can do ;)).
After visiting the private forest, our driver took us through muddy paths among small villages until we arrived to Dhungana Toll, another sub-branch of DCC and hotspot for watching dolphins. Here, the community plays an utmost significant role to educate locals and we felt extremely welcome and taken care of.
Although the dolphins are only present during the monsoon season in the Nepali side and we did not have a chance to see them, we were very glad to get to know the people behind their conservation. It was inspiring to witness how only one person can do so much with so little.
Due to the limited English of our hosts and because part of the team was in India for the dolphin counts, we were unable to find out more information about the projects DCC has at hand, but we know they are receiving a bit of help to get on board of the current digital era and still have all the motivation to continue helping these dolphins.
If you’d like to contribute in any way, be it counting dolphins, analysing the water quality, creating outreach programs or audiovisual materials, donating, or giving any ideas to help these guys, make sure you check the DCC website at www.dolphinconservation.org or contact any of its representatives. You can also spread the word on your favorite social media, and if you ever visit Nepal, don’t hesitate to include a visit to DCC for a unique experience.
Thank you to the Shrestha and Dhungana families for your amazing hospitality and for the important work you do! We hope we can visit you again in the future to see (more and more) dolphins swimming by.