The water of Ganga itself is rich in diverse fauna. Within the waters of Ganga and her tributaries, 140 species of fish have been discovered, such as featherbacks, barbs, walking catfish, gouramis and milkfish to name a few, and over ninety species of amphibians.1 One study examining the stretch of Ganga between Rishikesh and Kanpur alone found forty species of zooplankton, four species of crustaceans, fifteen mollusks, twelve species of freshwater turtles (four of which are endangered), and the Smooth-coated otter. There are also endangered Mugger and Gharial crocodiles living in her waters, as well as the Bull shark and the critically-endangered Gangetic shark (glyphis gangeticus) down near the Bay of Bengal.2 These fish and other creatures help to clean the river and are a vital part of Ganga’s ecosystem, yet many of these species are now facing extinction with the issues of pollution and low-flow.
Ganga and some of her tributaries are also home to the endangered Gangetic dolphin. This dolphin was declared the National Aquatic Animal, and has been included in the Ministry of Environment and Forests’ Wildlife Protection Act since 1972. Sadly, one organization has estimated that only 1,200-1,800 individual dolphins exist now in the Ganga river system.3
In addition to the creatures living directly in the river system, thousands of species live along the banks of Ganga and depend on her waters for life itself. In the uppermost regions of the river in the Himalayas, many species rely on Ganga, such as deer, boar, wildcats, wolves, jackals, foxes and the elusive endangered snow leopard.
As one continues downstream, endangered tigers, elephants, sloth bears, four-horned antelope (Chousingha) and the Large Indian Civet can be found, among other creatures such as the Rhesus macaque and the Gray (or Hanuman) Langur.
In the large deltaic region of Ganga, known as the Sundarbans, a rich diversity of animals exist on her waters. Many large animals live here including the critically endangered Royal Bengal tiger as well as the Barking deer, Axis deer, wild boar, mongoose, snakes such as the King Cobra and pythons, Monitor and Salvator lizards and the Olive Ridley turtle, among many others. The Sundarbans is also home to the largest Estuarine crocodile in the world.4
The entire stretch of Ganga and her tributaries is also home to thousands of birds who rely on Ganga for water and fish, with many settling in water-covered swamp areas along her banks. Over forty-eight species of birds have been identified between Rishikesh and Kanpur alone,5 including myna birds, kites, parrots, crows, Kingfisher birds, partridges, fowl, ducks and snipes.6 The Sundarbans is a large breeding ground for a wide variety of birds, including the Spotted billed pelican, cotton teal, herring gull, Caspian tern, grey heron, large egret, white ibis, osprey, Peregrine falcon and a variety of owls and sea eagles, among many other varieties.7 Five seperate areas along the Ganga support birdlife found nowhere else in the world.8
2 Rao, R.J. “Biological Resources of the Ganga River, India.” Hydrobiologia 458: 159-168, 2001. Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
3 “Ganges River Dolphin.” World Wildlife Fund. Click here to read this article.
4 “Sundarbans: The World’s Largest Delta.” Click here to read this article.
5 Rao, R.J. (2001)
6 “Ganges.” Wikipedia.
7 “Sundarbans: The World’s Largest Delta.”
8 “Ganges.” Wikipedia.