Urgent Inter-Departmental Meeting Called by WWF – Pakistan in Sukkur to Investigate Recent Dolphin Mortality Cases
05 February, 2011
SUKKUR: World Wide Fund for Nature – Pakistan (WWF – Pakistan) called an urgent meeting in Sukkur at the Indus River Dolphin Conservation Center to investigate the recent dolphin mortality cases and made it imperative that all concerned officials from relevant departments attended the meeting. Representatives from the Sindh Wildlife Department, Sindh Fisheries Department, Sindh Irrigation Department, Sindh Environmental Protection Agency working in the Sukkur District were present at this meeting to discuss this sensitive issue and chalk out an action plan with information from WWF – Pakistan conservationists.
A total of five dead dolphins were found late last month. Four were found at Ali Wahan, a small village on the banks of River Indus near Rohri. Three of these were female, where as the fourth was male. The fifth dolphin was found floating near upstream Guddu Barrage. This was also a female. Two dolphins were buried. However, post mortem was conducted on three dead dolphins by WWF – Pakistan conservationists Muhammad Imran, Liaqat Ali Khokhar and French Cetacean expert Francois Xavier Pelletier, who was volunteering for WWF - Pakistan. Sindh Wildlife Department employees were also involved in the post-mortem, which was done to collect samples for poison testing.
After detailed analysis of the circumstantial evidence, the causes of death of these dolphins have been deduced as either net entanglement or chemical poisoning. A pertinent report will be issued after the samples taken from the dolphins have been analyzed.
The habitat of the Indus River Dolphin has been reduced to one fifth of its historical range and is degraded primarily due to a shortage of water, uncontrolled use of agrochemicals in farming around the River and discharge of untreated industrial wastewater effluents in the River.
Yet another threat to the dolphin population is the unsustainable fishing practices which have flourished recently due to the replacement of the contract system of fishing with ‘fishing card system’ in the river Indus. Previously, contractors were held responsible for any illegal fishing in their allotted areas and the accountability kept them from indulging in unsustainable fishing practices. Now, for merely Rs. 110, anyone in the area can acquire a fishing card and indulge in the activity without anyone being held accountable in case a violation occurs. The increased number of fishermen in the area has put a tremendous stress on fishing resources. Since dolphin is a mammal and is not consumed, it has become a victim of illegal netting and chemical poisoning that fishermen use to maximize catch.
In 1974, the area between Guddu & Sukkur Barrages was declared as the ‘Indus Dolphin Reserve’. The total area stretches to about 190 Kilometers.
Speaking at the meeting, Uzma Noureen, Project Coordinator of IRDCP, said that dolphin samples will be analyzed to find out if dolphins were indeed poisoned by pesticides or chemical poisons. Once this is ascertained, a specific agenda against the use of both for fishing will be pursued. She also stated that a dolphin was saved in Nara canal on the left bank of the river before the mortality cases surfaced, which were highly sensationalized in the media without solid evidence.
Ghulam Mustafa Gopang, District Officer of the Sindh Fisheries Department shared his concern over the fishing card system and stated that it needs to be replaced or improved for better accountability.
Taj Muhammad Sheikh, Deputy Conservator of Sindh Wildlife Department insisted that fishing should be banned in the Dolphin Reserve area.
Abdul Sattar Saryo, Assistant Engineer with Sindh Irrigation Department stated that Irrigation Department will provide any support needed to monitor barrage gates and canals wherever possible to find any stranded or distressed dolphins.
Munir Ahmed Abbasi, Assistant Director Environment Protection Agency (Sindh), said that seasonal water sampling must be done to check habitat quality and all samples must be tested at EPA certified labs to ensure accuracy.
Inter-departmental coordination was stressed. It was jointly agreed that in the future, any dead dolphins that may be found will not be buried without a proper post-mortem. Since dolphin strandings happen after canal closure, it was also decided that regular inter-departmental meetings will be held before canal closure so that effective monitoring plan is put into action to minimize this situation. Accurate reporting by the media about the dolphins’ plight and the work being done to minimize it was also encouraged.
NOTE ABOUT THE INDUS DOLPHIN: The Indus River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica minor) is a global priority species of freshwater cetaceans. It is an endangered species and is endemic to the Indus River System in Pakistan. The Indus River Dolphin is the second most endangered obligate freshwater Dolphin species, falling only after the ‘functionally extinct’ Yangtze River Dolphin. The demise of the Yangtze River Dolphin is a tragic reminder of the Dolphin’s sensitivity to anthropogenic (human) activities occurring in and around its habitat, and the need for its formal protection and conservation on a national level.
The Indus River Dolphin being a flagship species is an indicator for the biological health of aquatic and terrestrial environment adjoining the Indus River.
In 2001, according to the dolphin survey conducted by WWF – Pakistan, the dolphin population was 725 in the reserve. The number increased to 1293, as discovered in a dolphin survey conducted in 2006. WWF – Pakistan is set to conduct a latest dolphin survey in March 2011.
About WWF – Pakistan: World Wide Fund for Nature - Pakistan was formed in 1970 to address the growing environmental and conservation issues in Pakistan that not only affected the flora and fauna, but were also affecting the human population. WWF – Pakistan is a non-profit organisation, working preserve, conserve and save our environment and natural resources. Today, WWF - Pakistan works through 31 offices with a team of approximately 340 dedicated staff members. We have our Head Office in Lahore, regional offices in Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar, Gilgit, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Quetta, and project offices wherever there is need and the potential to make a difference.
For dolphin/species queries:
Project Coordinator, Indus River Dolphin Conservation Project
For media queries:
Nuzhat Saadia Siddiqui
Co-ordinator, Press & Media Relations