Increasing Indus River dolphin mortality

The following news article was produced by Uzma Noureen at WWF-Pakistan.  For more information  she can be contacted at:  unoureen@wwf.panda.org

The Indus River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica minor) is an endangered subspecies of freshwater dolphin found only in the Indus River System in Pakistan.  In 2006 the entire subspecies was estimated to number about 1600 – 1750 individuals (Braulik et al. in review). The largest subpopulation, consisting of about 1200 individuals, exists at high density in a 200 km stretch of the Indus River between Guddu and Sukkur barrages in Sindh Province.  In the past, mortality rates within this subpopulation were very low (0-2 animals/year).  However, Indus dolphin mortality has increased dramatically following the devastating flood in 2010.  An unprecedented total of 28 dolphins were reported dead from between Guddu and Sukkur barrages in the year 2011.

The flood severely affected the socio-economic condition of indigenous communities escalating their dependence on natural resources.  Although fishing in the river is banned between Guddu and Sukkur barrages, a Dolphin Reserve, local people are dependent on fishing in the adjacent or appended temporary lakes, channels, canals and pools for their subsistence.  It is suspected that dolphins are attracted to such areas due to availability of prey, and become entangled in nets.

In addition, the recent amendments to the fisheries legislation in Sindh have changed fishing practices.  In the past powerful contractors controlled the fishing rights, but licenses are now issued to individuals at very low cost.  This has resulted in over harvesting of fish resources, and an increase in illegal fishing practices in the river, such as over-night netting and pesticide poisoning.  Traditional contract fishing systems still operate in some locations in the protected area, where contractors either hire local people to fish or bring in migrant labourers.

Finally, river turtles are the target of a new, large-scale, illegal trade to China.  Turtle hunters use methods such as leaving baited hooks over-night and pesticide poisoning, both of which may also have contributed to the increased river dolphin mortality.

Local wildlife departments and WWF-Pakistan are working to identify the causes of the Indus dolphin mortality.  They are also involving communities, and working with the provincial and federal government to address this emerging issue.

 

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