THE Blind Indus Dolphin or Bulhan as it is called in local parlance, is a fresh water mammal and considered to be the second most threatened species among river dolphins the world over.
The species of dolphin, endemic to Pakistan, survives in an extremely shrinking habitat in the River Indus from Chashma Barrage to Kotri Barrage (an area of 1,300kms).
Due to the shrinkage of their habitat and division of its population into four to five groups among the barrages, its breeding behaviour has also drastically changed. Many natural and manmade problems have posed as serious threats to this unique specie. Among others, the stranding of dolphins into the barrage canals is the main problem and a serious threat to the Bulhan.
Since water scarcity has arisen in the Indus, the dolphins have moved to the canals, perhaps for shelter, food or breeding. When the mighty Indus flowed with full capacity, no reports were received regarding strandings. But as soon as it shrunk, these creatures have started moving about for survival.
It was in January 1995 when for the first time a dolphin was reported at the canal, near my home village in Khairpur district. Two or three days before, a dolphin lover and cetacean specialist, Dr Rendall S. Reeves, had visited my office in Sukkur. We discussed the issue of deaths of dolphins in the canals. He gave me some technical tips for rescuing stranded dolphins. The idea stayed in my mind and the next time I received information about stranded dolphins, I rushed to the site, rescued one medium-sized female dolphin with the help of the local fishermen. The dolphin was put in a water tank, laden on a pick-up and successfully released in the River Indus at Sukkur.
After this successful rescue, I gave serious thought to this issue and highlighted the problem in the print media and to the nature and dolphin conservation agencies. The Sindh Wildlife Department, which has taken appropriate steps for the conservation of the Bulhan, is the pioneer in creating the Dolphin Reserve between Guddu and Sukkur barrages in 1974. Due to these efforts, out of a total of 965 dolphins, about 600 dolphins are surviving in this reserve of 180kms.
Rescues from 1995 to 2000 were conducted by the SWD only by its Sukkur office and a total of 14 dolphins were rescued from different canals. From December 2000 and onwards, the WWF-Pakistan, Lahore Zoo and UNDP (Pakistan) are also participating in these rescues and more than 11 dolphins have been jointly rescued from January to December 2001. The plight of the Indus Dolphin was highly publicized in the national and international media during the survey of the Indus Dolphin from Jinnah Barrage to Kotri Barrage in March to April, 2001.
Now, public response, in general, and the young generation’s interest, in particular, is encouraging. Probably now, no dolphin is left to die anywhere in the canals. Each and every stranded animal is reported by the locals and is rescued by a well-trained team of SWD officials and local fishermen, headed by the Deputy Conservator Wildlife, Sukkur. During recent rescues in October and December 2001, schoolchildren have shown their deep interest and voluntarily participate in these rescues. This is an encouraging sign, because without public participation and the young generation’s involvement, conservation of nature cannot be made possible. At least, the plight of the Indus Dolphin is now getting familiarized and deeply-rooted in the young generation, who have to replace the present rescuers and conservationists.