Kolkata: In order to protect the endangered Gangetic river dolphins, West Bengal Wildlife Board will soon create the country’s first community reserve for the mammal.

“A committee is being formed to examine means of creating the community reserve that would be set up in the Hooghly River somewhere between Malda and Sundarbans district. It is expected it would be ready within a year’s time,” Azam Zaidi state Chief Wildlife Warden and Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) told reporters in the city.

According to a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Ganges River dolphin, or susu — declared as the national aquatic animal in 2010 — inhabits the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh.

Once found in thousands, there are fewer than 2,000 Gangetic dolphins left in the country in the entire distribution range along the Ganga and Brahamaputra river system.

“It is very critical to involve as many as possible as the stretch of the river is not within a forest or a sanctuary so it is very important to involve all stakeholders for protecting dolphins. We want to spread awareness, control noise pollution and have cleaner water for conserving dolphins,” Zaidi added.

The department will also conduct a census to estimate the population of dolphins also known as the ‘Tiger of the Ganges’. The river dolphin is an indicator animal which has the same position in a river ecosystem as a tiger in a forest, officials informed.

Poaching, pollution, habitat fragmentation due to construction of dams and barrages, indiscriminate fishing and pollution of rivers are some of the major threats affecting the species.

“Pollution is the biggest threat to the species and a huge awareness campaign has to be launched to ensure every citizen participates in ensuring the river is not polluted. This is the biggest challenge,” said another official of the forest department.

This is the first time such a reserve will be created for mammals in the country as Wildlife Protection Act had provisions to create such community reserve for protection of flora and fauna.