The Indus River in Pakistan is home to the Indus dolphin, one of the rarest dolphin species in the world. These dolphins were facing near extinction in 2001 when their numbers had dropped to 1,200, but relatively recent conservation campaigns involving local and global partners have managed to increase the dolphin population by 50 percent.
Cities and infrastructure projects on the river and the pollution they generate are encroaching onto the dolphins’ habitat and are depleting dolphin populations dramatically, but local communities have taken matters into their own hands. Conservation efforts have been scaled up through the creation of rescue teams and the help of fishing communities who support the effort by upgrading their boats and equipment and through adopting sustainable fishing practices.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Pakistan, in collaboration with provincial wildlife and fisheries departments, has also trained watchers along the river to help catch illegal fishers. Experts also work to educate the public through school visits and awareness sessions, and by sharing dolphin-rescue hotline numbers so that people can report incidents of stranded or distressed dolphins. Trained personnel will then come to handle the stranded dolphins using special equipment.
Still, ignorance remains an issue. Abdul Jabbar, a member of one of the rescue teams, recalls when a man flung one of the dolphins on his back, taking it out of the water and into a frenzied crowd that was snapping photos and touching the dolphin’s skin. Unfortunately, Jabbar’s team didn’t make it in time to save the dolphin, but they were able to ensure that the culprit was arrested.
The efforts of rescue teams such as Jabbar’s are being noticed by ordinary citizens, which mobilizes them to join the cause alongside local and global nonprofits, turning Pakistan into a surprising center of dolphin conservation.
Despite all the progress being made, the protectors of the Indus dolphins face many hurdles, one of which is an unforgiving new fishing practice called electrofishing. Electrofishing uses power generators and batteries to create ripples of electric shock through the water, stunning fish, and sometimes even breaking their spines.
Another threat is the construction of new dams on the Indus river, which are part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project. The dam reservoirs will likely threaten the dolphin’s food sources and breeding grounds and may ultimately lead to the loss of the ecology the Indus dolphins need to survive.
While there are abundant challenges for conservationists in Pakistan, it remains impressive to see just how much they have accomplished in terms of growing the movement that is strong enough to boost and protect this rare dolphin population.