Signs of hope as population of endangered Indus River dolphin jumps in Pakistan

Posted on December, 12 2017

WWF survey estimates 1816 dolphins increase of 50 per cent since 2001

Despite severe threats to Indus River dolphins throughout their remaining range, results from a comprehensive WWF survey released today show a dramatic increase in the population of the endangered species – thanks largely to successful, community-based conservation efforts.
Following the month-long survey, there are now estimated to be 1,816 Indus River dolphins in Pakistan – 50 per cent more than the 1,200 dolphins estimated after WWF’s first census in 2001, when the species appeared to be heading for extinction.
“Significantly increasing the number of Indus River dolphins over the past 15 years is a remarkable achievement considering the ever-increasing pressure on the river and the species, and shows that progress is possible when governments, conservationist and communities work together,” said Hammad Naqi Khan, Director General, WWF-Pakistan.
“While celebrating this national success, we must not forget that there are still less than 2,000 Indus River dolphins in the world and we need to redouble our efforts to tackle all the threats to their survival and ensure their numbers continue to rise,” added Khan.
Also known as the blind dolphin, the Indus River dolphin is listed as endangered in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species with all the remaining dolphins in Pakistan except for a tiny isolated population of around 30 in India’s Beas River.
Currently confined to just 20 per cent of their natural habitat range due to the construction of numerous dams and barrages along the Indus River, the dolphins are also threatened by worsening water pollution, stranding in irrigation canals and accidentally becoming caught in fishing nets.
Faced with all these threats, WWF has spearheaded an innovative and collaborative approach to save the species, integrating research, effective law enforcement, and, critically, community engagement. Since 1992, WWF-Pakistan and the Sindh Wildlife Department have led a dolphin rescue programme, which has successfully saved 131 dolphins from being stranded in irrigation canals and safely released them back into the river. A dolphin monitoring network in collaboration with local communities and a 24-hour phone helpline have also been established.
“Indus River dolphin numbers would still be decreasing if it were not for the active participation of communities along the river: they are our eyes and ears and have helped to brink these iconic animals back from the brink,” said Khan. “Our efforts to save the dolphin are also critical for these communities since the species is an indicator of the health of the river, upon which tens of millions of people depend.”
Led by WWF, the survey took place from 20 March to 13 April 2017 during low water season when the dolphins are most concentrated and easiest to count. A team of 20 scientists and researchers from WWF-Pakistan, Zoological Survey of Pakistan, and provincial wildlife departments travelled in four boats covering the Indus River dolphin range from the Chashma to Sukkur barrages. Data was recorded by four observers watching from viewing platforms on two boats that travelled downstream in tandem

Indus River Dolphin
© WWF-Pakistan
Survey team counting Indus River dolphins during comprehensive survey 2017
© WWF-Pakistan
Sindh Wildlife Department staff taking an Indus river dolphin (Platanista minor) for release, Pakistan.
© WWF / WWF-Pakistan/Uzma Khan
Indus River dolphin being rescued after becoming stranded
© WWF-Pakistan