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'Indus dolphin population has increased'.

Byline: Xari Jalil

LAHORE -- The fourth survey of the Indus River dolphin by the WWF-Pakistan which covered the area from Chashma to Sukkur barrages revealed that the number of dolphins has increased.

The survey was conducted from March 20 to April 13, 2017, and is held every five years. The preliminary results of this year's exercise were launched by the WWF-Pakistan at its Lahore office on Tuesday. A report -- 'Signs of hope for the endemic and endangered Bhulan' -- highlights a significant increase in the population of the species since 2001.

A team of 20 members of the WWF-Pakistan, the Zoological Survey of Pakistan, academic researchers, and the wildlife departments of Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa did the research, travelling by boats with research equipment and other necessities. Platanista gangetica minor or the Indus blind dolphin is an obligate freshwater cetacean and has been listed as a 'global priority species' in the WWF and 'endangered' in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species due to an 80pc decline in its habitat range. The decline has come about as a result of the construction of barrages along the river (which has divided the population into five sub-populations) as well as from water pollution, stranding in irrigation canals and accidentally becoming caught in fishing nets.

Bhulan, as it is locally called, was observed throughout the 808 kilometre stretch of the main channel of Indus River during the study. The total number of dolphins was 1,816, with 170 dolphins between Chashma and Taunsa barrages sub-population, 571 dolphins between Taunsa and Guddu barrages sub-population and 1,075 dolphins between Guddu and Sukkur barrages sub-population. There were higher numbers of dolphins downstream Indus River with the highest population observed between Guddu and Sukkur barrages in Sindh, says the report.

Hammad Naqi Khan, Director General, WWF-Pakistan, told the media that surveys like these could help in conservation actions. 'The results prove that the Indus River dolphin is slowly recovering as well as proving what collaboration between different sectors can achieve,' he said.

'Still Indus dolphins face a host of threats from habitat loss to various other factors but it must be seen that these recent population increases are not reversed.'

IUCN member Dr Gillian T. Braulik working in the Cetacean Specialist Group of the organisation provided the survey team with initial technical assistance based on her expertise of leading previous dolphin surveys.

Safdar Ali Shah, Chief Wildlife Conservator of KP, Iffat Malik, Additional Secretary Sindh Forests and Wildlife Department, and Mazhar Imtiaz, Deputy Director, Wildlife Sciences Punjab, were also present at the event.

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Publication:Dawn (Karachi, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Dec 13, 2017
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