Pakistan wildlife surveys Indus Blind dolphin
By Nasir Jaffry Apr 8, 2006, 17:58 GMT
Islamabad - Pakistan's wildlife authorities and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are combing the country's Indus River to assess the population, behavioral changes and other relevant data for one of the most 'docile, rare and shy' mammals, the Indus Blind Dolphin.
At the time of the first survey in 2001, the dolphins, which are endemic to Pakistan and already listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a 'most threatened' species, had a population of only 1,100.
These dolphins do not have a crystalline eye lens and so are blind. They navigate underwater entirely by a sophisticated 'echo-location system.'
This blindness is one of the reasons why these mammals swim on one side underwater, with one flipper trailing in the muddy riverbed. The physical touch gives them important information about their surroundings and helps them find food.
'Our conservation efforts have definitely yielded some positive results as we have managed, to a great extent, to control further decline in its population,' a Pakistan-based WWF official, Richard Garstang, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
Some 14 volunteers and professional biologists and scientists are taking part in the second survey of a 1,500-kilometer length of meandering Indus in Northwestern Punjab province, downstream to Sukkur Barrage in southern Sindh province.
'So far the results have been very encouraging as we have spotted some baby dolphins, which means they are still thriving,' biologist Uzma Khan told dpa from Sukkur in northern Sindh.
The dolphins, whose local name is Bhulan, thrived in the muddy waters of the Indus until the 1930s when the British rulers built a number of barrages, or cross-river constructions, to store water for irrigation of agricultural lands.
This split the the dolphins' population into small groups, degraded their habitat and impeded migration. By the 1970s the mammals' concentration was mainly reduced between Sukkur Barrage and Guddu Barrage on Sindh-Punjab border.
The regional Sindh government declared the area between these two barrages as the Indus River Dolphin Reserve in 1974. The Reserve continues to harbour the majority of the population.
The grey-brown coloured dolphins, measuring between 1.5 and 2.5 meters in length and weighing a maximum of 90 kilograms, have been hunted for meat, oil and fin. They are considered by locals to have aphrodisiac qualities.
As these are air-breathing mammals, sometimes they get caught in fishing nets set up by locals and drown.
The WWF and Pakistani wildlife department officials are encouraging the local fishermen to opt for other means of livelihood to save the remaining population of the precious dolphins.
'We have managed to convince a large number of fishermen who now run 'dolphin safaris' in waters where they once used to fish, for local and foreign tourists,' said Garstang, who is the WWF's dolphin conservation manager in Pakistan.
Garstang said they were not sure about the current population of dolphins in the Indus river, adding that 'we will come to know about it once this survey is over by the end of April.'© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur