Dams have divided the population into six sub-groups
The expansion of irrigation systems and pollution are threatening the lives of the last 1,300 Indus river dolphins in Pakistan, according to a report issued by the WWF and Okapi Wildlife Associates. This dolphin is currently classified as “critically endangered” in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with its current habitat in Pakistan only a fifth of its original distribution area.
“The growing industrialisation of the Indus ecosystem could exterminate the Indus river dolphin,” said Dr Arnulf Köhncke in German. A wildlife conservation officer at WWF Germany, he added that the expansion of the country's irrigation system posed the most danger for the dolphins, as the artificial channels had become death-traps for the animals.
Köhncke explained that population increases in Europe and other industrial countries has led to more demand for cotton, the cultivation of which consumes a lot of water. As a result, the main flow of water in the irrigation canals has been diverted by the construction of six barrages. The dolphins would swim downstream through the locks, but are prevented from swimming back upstream into the main flow due to the barrages and strong current. Cut off from their counterparts, they become isolated and may perish during the annual draining of the channels.
In addition, the dams in the Indus have separated the dolphin population into six sub-groups. "Some sub-populations contain less than 100 head, two of them not more than ten heads. We predict that only three sub-populations are likely to survive in the long term," said Köhncke.
Thanks to a WWF project, the Indus river dolphins are being rescued from their dire situation. Since 1997, 143 stray dolphins were identified, and 115 of them rescued. Furthermore, the organisation monitors the dolphin population in the Indus and counsels fishermen about how nets pose a danger for the dolphins.
Another threat faced by these rare dolphins is the increasing pollution. In Pakistan, there is no organised system for waste disposal, so 90 percent of urban and industrial waste enters the rivers. The majority of the Indus river dolphins live downstream from the inflowing Panjnad River, which has become extremely polluted by the industrial city of Punjab.
Further Information: www.wwf.de