Thanks to Pakistan’s aggressive efforts, the ‘world’s rarest’ Indus Dolphins are slowly recovering

The population of the world's rarest dolphins has seen a dramatic jump in the last 16 years.

Copyright: Zahoor Salmi / WWF-Pakistan

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government has shown its commitment towards the cause of restoring the environment and the conservation of wildlife. After the success of the ambitious Billion Tree Tsunami Project, the government’s efforts to save the ‘world’s rarest’ dolphins are yielding results.

Even before the PTI government, the past governments also introduced programs educating the locals of Sindh about these rare dolphins. The awareness program bore encouraging results, as locals started efforts to rescue stranded dolphins, hence steadily increasing their numbers.

Due to these combined efforts, there are now around 1,987 Indus dolphins in Pakistan, according to a recent WWF survey. Comparing the numbers to the past, there were only 132 Indus Dolphins in Pakistan 1972.

Workers remove a blind dolphin from the Khairpur Canal to free it at Lansdowne Bridge to shift them into deeper waters.

What makes the Indus Rive Dolphins so unique?

Indus river dolphins are assumed to have originated in the ancient Tethys Sea. When the sea dried up around 50 million years ago, the dolphins were forced to adapt to its sole remaining habitat, i.e., rivers. Today, they can hardly be found in the lower parts of the Indus River and in also in India’s Beas River.

Locally known as Bhulan in Sindhi and Urdu, Indus dolphins “have been in the Indus for thousands of years, and are a mark of the Harappa civilization,” says Mir Akhtar Talpur, an officer for Sindh Wildlife Department, a governmental agency. The Bronze Age civilization in the Indus Valley, which was known for its urban planning and advanced drainage systems, helped contribute to the growth of the dolphins.

Nazir Mirani, a fisherman, has worked with Sindh Wildlife for over 30 years; he has bite marks on his palms from previous rescue encounters. Mirani belongs to the third generation in his family to aid in conserving dolphins, offering the agency knowledge and advice from his years on the water.

One of world's rarest dolphins rebounding in Pakistan
People rescue Indus river dolphins in the Kirthar Canal, near Sukkur. Credits; FRANÇOIS XAVIER PELLETIER, WWF

“For generations, we have been living near the river and sailing in boats. We fish, and we take care of dolphins,” says Mirani.

“In the past, few people used to eat dolphins. My father told them to not eat the dolphin because it is an innocent animal, and it’s the beauty of the river.”

For rescuers like Mirani, rescuing the Indus River dolphin is a civic duty. He recalls the gharial, a crocodile that once thrived in the Indus, yet is now locally extinct. He does not want dolphins to suffer the same destiny.

If that happens, he questions, “What will our children see?”

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