Historic declaration offers hope for world’s endangered river dolphins including Pakistan’s Indus dolphin

Posted on October, 25 2023

Lahore (24 October) - After decades of seemingly irreversible decline in global river dolphin numbers, 11 Asian and South American countries today signed a landmark deal, Global Declaration for River Dolphins, in Bogotá, Colombia to save the world’s six surviving species of river dolphins from extinction, including the Indus river dolphin which is endemic to Pakistan.

In Pakistan, the population of the endangered Indus River dolphins has almost doubled over the last 20 years due to collective action by the government, communities and NGOs, including WWF-Pakistan. However, there are still only around 2,000 Indus River dolphins and WWF-Pakistan is working with communities to boost conservation efforts and address the threats facing the species. This includes reducing pollution to improve the dolphin’s habitat, releasing dolphins entangled in fishing gear, and rescuing dolphins trapped in irrigation canals.

Adopted by Asian and South American range states from Pakistan to Colombia, the Global Declaration for River Dolphins aims to halt the decline of all river dolphin species and increase the most vulnerable populations. It will scale up collective efforts to safeguard the remaining river dolphin species, by developing and funding measures to eradicate gillnets, reduce pollution, expand research, and increase protected areas.

Globally, since the 1980s, river dolphin populations have plummeted by 73 per cent. In light of this alarming statistic, the increase in the Indus river dolphin’s population is a testament of the successful collaborative work of all the stakeholders. 
Syed Ghulam Qadir Shah, Inspector General Forest, Ministry of Climate Change stated, “The population of the Indus River dolphin has been successfully recovered in Pakistan from the brink of extinction through coordinated efforts. Yet, unsustainable fishing practices, habitat fragmentation, water infrastructure developments and pollution continue to pose significant threats to its surviving population.”
Dr Masood Arshad, Senior Director Programmes at WWF-Pakistan called for sustained action that can continue the protection and survival of the Indus River dolphin, “This is a historic declaration which lays down a roadmap for the recovery of river dolphin populations across the globe. Even in Pakistan, we must not rest on this and must continue to strive in ensuring that we make the Indus safe for the dolphin because it is absolutely vital for the overall health of the river and eventually the communities that survive on it.”

River dolphins live in some of the world’s most important rivers, including the Amazon and Orinoco in South America, and the Ayeyarwady, Ganges, Indus, Mekong, Mahakam and Yangtze in Asia. These rivers support hundreds of millions of people, from Indigenous Peoples and local communities in remote areas to the residents of megacities. These rivers water vast amounts of agricultural land, fuel industry and business, and sustain a wealth of wildlife.
© WWF-Pakistan