Pakistan

Fishermen reach out to save endangered Indus dolphin

In this photo taken on March 23, 2021, Ghulam Akbar, a local fisherman and volunteer of the Indus Dolphin Rescue Team, sits on a boat during routine monitoring along the Indus River near Sukkur in the southern city of Sindh. — Agence France-Presse

SUKKUR: With the help of fishermen, freshwater dolphins thrive in a section of Pakistan’s main river to protect rare species that are endangered.

Indus dolphins once swam from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea and can be identified by their saw-like beaks, but now they mostly gather in the 180-kilometer (110-mile) long waterway in southern Sindh.

A dolphin crossing the muddy water to breathe the air is a common sight along this big river, but most of the nearby villagers do not know that their neighbors are on the brink of extinction.

In this photo taken on March 24, 2021, a dolphin swims along the Indus River near the southern city of Sukkur in Sindh. — Agence France-Presse
In this photo taken on March 24, 2021, a dolphin swims along the Indus River near the southern city of Sukkur in Sindh. — Agence France-Presse

“We have to explain that it is a unique species that is only found in the Indus River and cannot be found anywhere else,” Abdul Jabbar, who gave up working in the dolphin rescue team Say. Agence France-Presse On the bank of the Dadu Canal where he patrolled on a motorcycle.

In this photo taken on March 24, 2021, Abdul Jabbar, a member of the Dolphin Rescue Team of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), is standing near Sukkur in the southern Sindh province. Riding a bicycle along the canal during the monitoring. — Agence France-Presse
In this photo taken on March 24, 2021, Abdul Jabbar, a member of the Dolphin Rescue Team of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), is standing near Sukkur in the southern Sindh province. Riding a bicycle along the canal during the monitoring. — Agence France-Presse

For decades, due to uncontrolled fishing and habitat loss caused by pollution and man-made dams, at the turn of the century, the number of dolphins plummeted to about 1,200.

They are listed as endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and their numbers have fallen by more than 50% since the 1940s.

Dolphin Hotline

In order to reverse the fate of mammals, Pakistani wildlife officials carried out arduous door-to-door campaigns with local fishing communities on river banks and arterial canals.

They provided advice on fishing nets that are friendly to dolphins and warned people against harmful and illegal poison fishing—that is, the practice of using chemicals to kill small fish used as poultry feed.

In this photo taken on March 23, 2021, local fisherman and Indus dolphin rescue team volunteer Ghulam Akbar (R) sits during routine monitoring along the Indus River near Sukkur, southern Sindh. On board. — Agence France-Presse
In this photo taken on March 23, 2021, local fisherman and Indus dolphin rescue team volunteer Ghulam Akbar (R) sits during routine monitoring along the Indus River near Sukkur, southern Sindh. On board. — Agence France-Presse

WWF also provided loans worth 1 million rupees (US$6,300) to encourage fishermen to carry out other businesses.

In this photo taken on March 23, 2021, Abdul Jabbar, a member of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Dolphin Rescue Team, shows a promotional message written in Urdu , Designed to protect and conserve the endangered Indus dolphins along the banks of the Indus River near Sukkur in the southern city of Sindh. — Agence France-Presse
In this photo taken on March 23, 2021, Abdul Jabbar, a member of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Dolphin Rescue Team, shows a promotional message written in Urdu , Designed to protect and conserve the endangered Indus dolphins along the banks of the Indus River near Sukkur in the southern city of Sindh. — Agence France-Presse

With the help of the Provincial Wildlife Department, they established a dolphin monitoring network composed of 100 volunteers and a few paid staff, and a 24-hour hotline for villagers to call when they see a dolphin in distress.

Kareem’s promise is now unlimited.

Recently, when a dolphin was trapped in a river canal, he missed the birth of a child.

“The doctors are preparing for a C-section, and I need to be with my wife. But when the call came, I hurried to rescue the dolphins that night,” he said Agence France-Presse.

In this photo taken on March 23, 2021, a man is rowing a boat to observe Indus dolphins on a river near Sukkur, a city in southern Sindh. — Agence France-Presse
In this photo taken on March 23, 2021, a man is rowing a boat, observing Indus dolphins on a river near Sukkur in the southern city of Sindh. — Agence France-Presse

The latest survey from 2017 shows that the number has rebounded to about 1,800, and wildlife officials expect the number to increase further thereafter.

Territorial reduction

According to local legend, the first Indus dolphin was once a woman who was transformed by the curse of a saint because she forgot to feed him one day.

Previous generations believed that the dolphins-called Buren by the locals-were cursed.

They have evolved into functional blindness, and their sonar feels sharper when they cross muddy rivers in search of prey.

In this photo taken on March 24, 2021, dolphins swim along the Indus River near the southern city of Sukkur in Sindh. — Agence France-Presse
In this photo taken on March 24, 2021, dolphins swim along the Indus River near the southern city of Sukkur in Sindh. — Agence France-Presse

Harmful fishing methods are not the only danger dolphins face.

Every January, when the water level is at its lowest level, the gates of the canal are closed for cleaning, forming pools and lagoons, which become death traps for stranded marine life.

Adnan Hamid Khan, an official of the Department of Wildlife, told Agence France-Presse The recent steady increase in the number of dolphins is a “success story”.

In this photo taken on March 24, 2021, Adnan Hamid Khan, deputy protector of the Sindh Department of Wildlife, explained measures to protect endangered dolphins in an interview with AFP at his office in the southern city of Sukkur in Sindh. — Agence France-Presse
In this photo taken on March 24, 2021, Adnan Hamid Khan, deputy protector of the Sindh Department of Wildlife, explained measures to protect endangered dolphins in an interview with AFP at his office in the southern city of Sukkur in Sindh. — Agence France-Presse

“But as the population increases, there is a shortage of food, and the scope of activities decreases. Their breeding grounds and territories have shrunk. “

The Indus dolphins were first threatened during the British colonial rule, when dams were built to control the flow of waterways, and then dangerous chemicals were discharged as factories emerged along the riverbank.

Khan said that untreated sewage from rapidly expanding towns was also dumped in the water.

But with fishermen by their side, this species has some hope.

In this photo taken on March 23, 2021, Ghulam Akbar (left), a local fisherman and volunteer of the Indus Dolphin Rescue Team, stands during routine monitoring along the Indus River near Sukkur, southern Sindh. On board. — Agence France-Presse
In this photo taken on March 23, 2021, Ghulam Akbar (left), a local fisherman and volunteer of the Indus Dolphin Rescue Team, stands during routine monitoring along the Indus River near Sukkur, southern Sindh. On board. — Agence France-Presse

“Now we are doing our best to save dolphins like human beings,” said another volunteer monitor, Ghulam Akbar, who also turned to farm fishing to try to limit his impact on the river.

“They breathe like we humans. Every sympathetic person should save them.”

In this photo taken on March 23, 2021, Ghulam Akbar, a local fisherman and volunteer of the Indus Dolphin Rescue Team, walks along the Indus River near Sukkur in the southern Sindh Province Make gestures during routine monitoring. — Agence France-Presse
In this photo taken on March 23, 2021, Ghulam Akbar, a local fisherman and volunteer of the Indus Dolphin Rescue Team, walks along the Indus River near Sukkur in the southern Sindh Province Make gestures during routine monitoring. — Agence France-Presse

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