The Endangered River Dolphins Of India And Pakistan
The dolphins that inhabit the Indus River in India and Pakistan are on the brink: the species has been red-listed as endangered “due to an 80% reduction in distributional range and a highly fragmented population.” Alternatively known as “blind dolphins” because of their poor vision, they are generally seen as a high conservation priority because of their “evolutionary distinctiveness.” And while their unique look makes them a charismatic conservation priority, they may also be a “flagship” species. All of this to say, the Indus River dolphins are as important as they are threatened, and though some reviews of their conservation status were published in the 1980s and 1990s, an update on their status (with updated methods) has been long overdue. The purpose of this study was to “provide an update and comprehensive summary of what is known about Indus dolphins today,” to outline the major threats they face, and consider ways to move forward.
To conduct their review, the researchers pored over several decades of material, including academic journals, unpublished government and NGO reports, and university theses, as well as newspaper and magazine articles in a variety of languages. Through this, the researchers found that the Indus dolphins’ status is shaky and sensitive indeed. Their historical range is currently fragmented by barrages that divide the Indus river into 17 sections, and they have been extirpated from 10 of those; this means that about 99% of the population lives in only 690 km of river. They also found that three major population surveys have been done to estimate the abundance of Indus dolphins, and these found that the most important subpopulation of dolphins (about 70% of the total population) lives in just 190 km of river. As far as threats go, the Indus dolphins are mostly threatened by human hunting, accidental capture in other fisheries, entrapment in irrigation canals, and water pollution. All of these threats are human-made.
For conservation advocates, the review paints a picture of the status of the dolphins that is troublesome, but it is perhaps the forceful concluding words that are most valuable:
It is important that we do not allow ourselves to become paralysed by the lack of certainty about some threats, and that the search for more information does not become the sole focus. It is essential that concrete conservation actions be taken immediately.
These are words that any conservationist working on any issue should be able to relate to.