It unusual to hear about the reappearance of a species at risk. Luckily one such beautiful organism now seems to be in recovery and on its way to the original count. A rare mammal and an endangered species – the Indus River Dolphin have increased in quite a large number due to the efforts of the conservatory authority and community members. It was expected to become extinct had the efforts of WWF and committed community members not begun on time.
The Indus River Dolphin is a precious animal that has a long history in the region of Sindh. Around 1000 types of these Dolphins exist near the lower region of the Indus River. These are one-of-a-kind organisms and are among the four dolphin species and subspecies on the planet that live in freshwater. They are blind by sight and use sounds and echolocation to communicate and hunt smaller water organisms like prawns and catfish etc.
The decline in its population occurred due to many reasons that gradually became a combined threat to its existence. It once existed on roughly 3500 km region, that spanned the Indus River and its side channels. Due to the rise in the agriculture industry, 80 percent of its habitat was lost and it was limited to less than 200 km. Water pollution is one of the major reasons and which has now extended from oceans and beaches to rivers, which were previously not that much affected because of being at a distance from the urban areas.
Poaching and construction of canals that are used for irrigation is another major issue. The region is fertile and rich for growing crops and it plays a big role in the agronomic income of the country. Framers use water from the five rivers and Indus being the biggest of them all, contributes a large quantity. Due to the creation of the irrigation canals for crop fields, the water is diverted leading to a damaged habitat for the Indus Dolphin. Sometimes, the dolphins get trapped in the canals and are unable to make a way out. They also get trapped in the fishing nets and are left to die for they have no place in the market for those fishermen.
Many projects for the conservation and protection of these dolphins started under the banner of World Wide Fund Pakistan, in collaboration with the Government. The help of local communities was deemed necessary especially those who lived near its identified habitats. Handing the management over to them proved to be successful not just for the dolphins but for the community as well who got a chance to work in their own area for a good cause.
WWF noticed that this initiative that recruited young as well as experienced individuals, who were trained about the conservation methods, was the best practice for the long-term survival of the species. Named the “Dolphin Rescue Volunteers”, these people were tasked to routinely check the habitat and make reports that can then be evaluated to improve the conservation methods. A survey conducted by WWF showed that there was approximately a 50% rise in the number of the Indus River dolphins, which was more than the estimated amount at the beginning of this millennium when they were about to go extinct. In a time when it seems rather impossible to protect the animals who are in danger, this seems rather astonishing and remarkable how working together with locals, conservationists and governments can save them.
There is also one interesting savior of these dolphins. Along with the efforts of the conservation departments and wildlife organizations, poaching of these animals was unexpectedly reduced due to an amusing reason. In the 1980s, thief groups rose in Sindh and ruled some areas around the coast of the Indus River. They slowly rose in number and kidnapped and robbed passengers on highways and the people living in the nearby areas, many of whom were poachers of the Indus Dolphin. Because of these thieves, the local fisherman left the area and moved to other regions for safety. Once they left, the Dolphin was no more hunted and managed to regain a bit of its endangered population.
Currently, the authorities are also studying and figuring out whether the transport of these dolphins is possible or not. These organisms can survive out of water for only three hours and it is necessary to provide them a wet environment. Translocating it through air and land is not possible as dolphins are sensitive to noise which can disrupt their echolocation mechanisms. In this regard, research is still being done to see how feasible it can be and whether the new habitat will be good enough for their survival or not.
The increase in number doesn’t mean that all efforts should be put to hold. This is just the beginning and there is a need of continued work and action to bring the number of these Indus Dolphins back to original. There are many ongoing dams and construction projects on the Indus River which still pose a great deal of threat to these dolphins. Different organizations have joined in the efforts to restore the habitats and halt any decrease in their population. Hotlines have been introduced where people can report if they observe dolphins in discomfort. Protection laws are also being introduced along with the awareness campaigns that teach people how to rescue and protect the dolphins that are in trouble. More than two hundred (and still counting) dolphins have been rescued from the irrigation canals and are released back into their niches.
It is indeed a great sight to see these dolphins jolt up and down in the Indus River. Such efforts need to be started for other endangered species as well so that the wildlife and nature are restored back to normal. We should all try to play our part in spreading awareness about such animals and undo the damage to Mother Nature!
Maham Maqsood is the Managing Editor at Scientia Pakistan. She has done her Bachelors from Quaid-i-Azam University in Biochemistry. An avid reader and a freelance writer, Maham has worked for several organizations including Globalizon and MIT Technology Review Pakistan.