Shushuk Mela 2011 – Sharing the challenge of conserving Bangladesh’s cetacean diversity and abundance with local communities

A traveling exhibition featuring the cetacean diversity of Bangladesh and conservation efforts reaches over 5000 villagers living in close proximity to prime dolphin habitat.

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bangladesh Cetacean Diversity Project (BCDP) has completed a two-week long tour through 7 villages adjacent to the Sundarbans mangrove forest with their mobile ‘Shushuk Mela’ or Dolphin Exhibition. Over 5000 visitors were welcomed aboard a traditional wooden barge modified to accommodate life-size models of all seven known dolphin species present in Bangladesh, informative panels and interactive games. An estimated 3000 persons enjoyed the nightly documentary film show despite cold temperatures.

The ‘Shushuk Mela 2011’ was developed by the BCDP Educational Outreach Program and financially supported by the Foundation for the Third Millennium. Following an overwhelmingly successful event arranged in the capital city Dhaka two years ago, the exhibition was modified for an audience living and working in direct proximity to key dolphin habitat. Aiming to increase awareness among local resource collector communities about the diversity of cetaceans present in Bangladesh and the threats they are facing, the organizers also hope to build local constituency for the establishment of three Wildlife Sanctuaries for Ganges River and Irrawaddy dolphins.

Three hotspots for freshwater dependant dolphins in the eastern waterways of the Sundarbans mangrove forest have been identified; more than fifty percent of the endangered Ganges River dolphin or Shushuk and significant numbers of Irrawaddy dolphins were recorded in these river segments. The Government of Bangladesh has indicated support for the establishment of these new Wildlife Sanctuaries for endangered freshwater dolphins in the Sundarbans.

Conservation Management plans aiming to reduce direct threats to these two freshwater dependant dolphin species and ensuring effective protection of their preferred habitat and prey are currently being developed by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bangladesh Cetacean Diversity Project in collaboration with the Forest Department and local fisher folk.

Aware of the importance of local support for maximum compliance, the ‘Shushuk Mela 2011’ offered a platform for discussing locally appropriate and effective conservation interventions. Most visitors, including fishermen, traders and local leaders reacted positively to the proposed conservation interventions, reiterating the importance of healthy fish stocks and sufficient freshwater levels for humans as well as dolphins.

A large wooden barge traditionally used for collecting the Nypa palm leaves harvested from the Sundarbans forest was modified to create a floating exhibition space. The information presented on thirty panels was largely depicted with photographs and illustrations, and several interactive games invited children and adults alike to test their level of understanding. Life-size models allowed the visitors a closer look at these amazing creatures and their individual features. Volunteer interpreters guided the visitors through the exhibition with personalized explanations, encouraged questions and initiated discussions. 

More information about the Shushuk Mela 2008 here

More information about the Shushuk Mela 2011 here