Protecting Pakistan's Endangered Indus River Dolphins
Posted on 12 December 2017
Lahore, WWF-Pakistan unveiled the preliminary results of its Indus River dolphin survey with a report titled "Signs of hope for the endemic and endangered Bhulan" highlighting a significant increase in the population of the species since 2001.
The Indus river dolphin (Platanista gangetica minor) or Indus blind dolphin is an obligate freshwater cetacean and a global priority species of WWF. It is endemic to the Indus River system in Pakistan and is listed as endangered in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species due to an 80% decline in its habitat range as a result of the construction of barrages along the river (which has divided the population into five sub-population) as well as from water pollution, stranding in irrigation canals and accidentally becoming caught in fishing nets.
The study is compiled through the fourth comprehensive Indus River dolphin survey, which took place from 20 March to 13 April 2017 covering the Indus River dolphin distribution range from Chashma to Sukkur barrages. A team of 20 members from WWF-Pakistan, Zoological Survey of Pakistan, academic researchers, provincial Wildlife department of Sindh, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, travelled in four boats carrying research equipment, food, camping gear, and drinking water. The survey, which is conducted every five years, reveals that the number of the dolphins has increased.
The Indus dolphin, locally known as the bhulan was observed throughout the 808 km stretch of the main channel of Indus River surveyed during the current study. The total number of dolphins was 1,816, with 170 dolphins between Chashma and Taunsa barrages sub-population, 571 dolphins between Taunsa and Guddu barrages sub-population and lastly 1,075 dolphins between Guddu and Sukkur barrages sub-population. The dolphin encounter rate was higher downstream Indus River with the highest population observed between Guddu and Sukkur barrages in Sindh.
Hammad Naqi Khan, Director General, WWF-Pakistan said, "These surveys provide credible data on the status of the Indus River dolphin population so that conservation actions and adaptive management of this species can be developed accordingly." He added that the results prove that the Indus River dolphin is slowly recovering as well as showing what can be achieved when government, communities and conservationists work together. "While celebrating this success we must also remember that the Indus dolphin still faces a host of threats from habitat loss to stranding in irrigation canals and entanglement in fishing nets which can only be eliminated by strengthening conservation efforts and ensuring that these recent population increases are not reversed."
Dr. Gillian T. Braulik, member International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Cetacean Specialist Group, and a dolphin conservation expert provided the survey team with initial technical assistance based on her expertise of leading previous dolphin surveys. She said that it is clear from the four surveys that have been conducted in Pakistan that this endangered species is increasing in number. At a time where so many endangered species are disappearing, and so many other river dolphins are declining, this is incredibly positive news that Pakistan can be proud of.
Safdar Ali Shah, Chief Wildlife Conservator KPK, Iffat malik, Additional Secretary Sindh Forests and Wildlife Department and Mazhar Imtiaz, Deputy Director, Wildlife Sciences Punjab were present at the event.