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Declining dolphin numbers

July 13, 2018


THE knock-on effects of changes in the normal order of things seldom, if ever, receive much attention in Pakistan. A couple of months ago, it was reported that acute water shortages in the flow of the Indus were leading to the large-scale deaths of freshwater turtles. Denied their normally bounteous habitat, the reptiles were meeting the grim fate of being killed by poachers. More recently, on Tuesday, it emerged that a sub-population of the Indus river dolphin, an endangered species and functionally blind, might have been locally wiped out between the Jinnah and Chashma barrages on the same river. A survey carried out by experts from the World Wildlife Fund for Nature-Pakistan, the Zoological Survey of Pakistan, and provincial wildlife departments, failed, for the second year in a row, to spot a single specimen of the species’ sub-population in the given area covering more than 70km. While this does not necessarily mean the extinction of this sub-population — which in any case earlier estimates had put at not more than five dolphins within this section of the river — it is noteworthy that the reason being given is the same: decreased water flows.

This is sad news for the Indus river dolphin, efforts for the conservation of which have been under way for at least a couple of decades. It is found in five sub-populations over the stretch of the Indus, separated by the barrages, which in themselves have hampered the movement of the species, thus contributing to the risk to its survival. True, decreased river flows are not the only factor in the decline in the numbers of this mammal; other concerns include the fact that they have been confined to just 20pc of their natural habitat range because of development activities, that they become accidentally caught in fishing nets, pollution, etc. But the decline in population numbers should surely be taken as a warning that Pakistan stands to lose its biodiversity unless a long-term view is adopted.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2018