Conservation of the Indus River Dolphin | WWF

Conservation of the Indus River Dolphin

Geographical location:

Asia/Pacific > Southern Asia > Pakistan

Rescue preparation, Indus River, Pakistan.
© WWF Pakistan / Uzma Khan


This project aims to conserve Pakistan's wetlands, many of which have already been lost due to increasing human pressure, irrigation, and drainage projects. The focus of this component of the project is on the conservation of the Indus dolphin (Platanista gangetica minor).

The Indus dolphin is a flagship and endemic species of Pakistan. Construction of barrages on the Indus River have fragmented the population of this species and have also made it more vulnerable due to canal strandings and fishing net entanglements. Furthermore, general lack of awareness, pollution and unsustainable resource use practices have put immmense pressure on the population of the Indus dolphin.

The project provides support to the governmental wildlife agencies in reducing the impact of these threats on dolphins. It also involves local communities, especially fishermen in conservation initiatives. Population monitoring and research are also significant components of this project.


Although predominantly arid and semi-arid, Pakistan has a wide variety of wetlands throughout the country, from coastal mangroves and mudflats on the Indus Delta, to the glacial lakes of the high Himalayas. Many of the natural lakes, marshes, and mangrove areas have already been lost or degraded through increasing human pressure, particularly from irrigation and drainage. Many new wetlands have been created in the form of reservoirs and overspills from irrigation canals. The wetlands of Sind, in the lower reaches of the Indus, have been particularly affected by dam construction and remain under threat from new schemes.

Pakistan was one of the first countries to sign the Convention on Wetlands (the Ramsar Convention), and in 1976 designated 9 sites to the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance. Unfortunately research has since shown that a number of these wetlands do not meet the criteria for acceptance, and at least one (Kheshki) has been so degraded that it can no longer be considered even a wetland habitat. 2 other wetlands (Drigh and Khabbaki) have suffered major ecological changes and have also lost their international importance. In contrast, there are a large number of presently unlisted wetlands which meet the criteria for listing as Ramsar sites.

Pakistan's wetlands form a major staging and wintering area for large populations of Palearctic waterfowls, the so-called 'Indus Flyway'. Most of these birds come from breeding grounds in Russia, and either spend the winter in Pakistan or pass through to wintering grounds further South in India, Iran or the Middle East. As well as supporting extremely large populations of wintering waterfowls, Pakistan's wetlands are important for a number of threatened species, such as the Marbled teal, White-headed duck, Dalmatian pelican, Indus dolphin, gharial, and marine turtles.

Aside from these natural assets, Pakistan's wetlands are of great importance to local people, providing water for drinking, irrigation, industries, important commercial and recreational fisheries, sediment traps, flood protection, and other essential functions. The growing human population and the country's expanding economy are placing increasing pressure on natural and artificial wetlands; the situation is particularly acute in the Punjab province.

Specific threats include drainage, increased salinity and siltation from irrigation waters, the introduction of commercial fish species, pollution, hunting, and other forms of disturbance.


1. Set new priorities for wetland conservation in Pakistan.

2. Conserve the Indus dolphin in the Indus river weltand complex through rescue of stranded dolphins and population monitoring.

3. Develop information and education materials for different user groups.

4. Involve local communities at every stage of research, planning and management.

6. Build the capacity of stakeholders (local community, government personnel) in endangered species management.


There is an urgent need to raise awareness of the socio-economic and natural values and functions of wetlands, and to develop a programme to integrate wildlife conservation with sustainable development on a network of wetlands throughout Pakistan. This project addresses these needs.

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