Once a prime candidate for extinction, the numbers of Pakistan’s Indus dolphins are on the rise, though still facing challenges of water pollution, climate change, and a shrinking habitat, said experts. Amongst four freshwater dolphin species left on the earth, its numbers have improved significantly, thanks to the rescue efforts of the wildlife authorities, and groups, and the local communities. Indus dolphin, which is also known as blind dolphin or Bhulan, found in a 1,300-kilometer long stretch between northeastern and southern Pakistan. Another species of this dolphin is found in the Ganges and Brahamputra rivers in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. The mammal is blind because it does not have a crystal eye lens. According to the Sindh Wildlife Department’s 2019 survey, Indus dolphins count reached 1,419 in area between Sukkur and Guddu barrages alone. The number was 918 in 2011. Experts also see inundation of a fifth of Pakistan by the two consecutive floods in 2010, and 2011 as another reason for improving the habitat of the blind dolphins, by washing away pollutants and improving the water quality. Threat is still there: Dolphins’ Increasing population is satisfactory but at the same time their carrying capacity is reducing, mainly because of construction of barrages and industrial estates along Indus river from Guddu to Sukkur, a 200-kilometer stretch, which was declared Indus dolphin reserve in 1974, opined Adnan Khan, deputy conservator Sindh Wildlife Department. Barrages built to control floods and provide water for irrigation reduces dolphin’s ability to migrate and in some cases divert them towards dangerous low waters. Also, Khan went onto say, Industrial waste serves as a raging threat to the rare species. Mohammad Moazzam Khan, technical advisor to Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF)Pakistan chapter, cited fishing nets made from plastic, and other strong materials as a major threat to the blind dolphins. Some 50- 60 years ago, according to Khan, nets were made by cotton and it was easier for dolphins to break that net. But these days, once they trapped into the net, they won’t be able to break it. Also, the range, which means the area in which dolphins are found, has shrunk to an alarming level. Decrease in flow of river Indus forced them towards side canals where they are trapped due to a low water level. Increment in number of fisherman also poses big threat to dolphins. Despite increase in the mammal’s population over the past two decades, the range of Indus dolphin has been declined by 80 percent, according to the WWF. Role of local community in Conservation: Khan noted that local community plays an important role in the conservation of dolphins. The people living with the river side are well aware as compared to those living away from the river about the importance of this mammal. The community members immediately inform the concerned authorities as soon as they see any dolphin trapped in the low water. The WWF Pakistan also plays its part in conservation of dolphins. An ambulance has been provided by WWF Pakistan for the rescue of trapped dolphins. In addition, a comparatively lower level fishing activity in the large area between Guddu and Sukkur due to poor law and order situation, Khan observed, is helpful in increasing the dolphin population. Tagging: A man had been arrested in November last year from Sukkur for mishandling a dolphin, which eventually led to her death. Recalling the incident, Adnan Khan, the wildlife official, said this was first time in the country’s when a person was arrested for killing a dolphin. Moreover, he added, the court granted him bail against Rs 250,000, which was higher than the bond required for the bail of a murder accused. If found guilty, the man could be sentenced up to three years in prison and a fine of Rs. 0.5 million. As the news of the dolphin’s death viral on social media, China’s Nanjing Normal university approached the Sindh wildlife authorities to get the mammal’s body for research purpose. The WWF, in collaboration with the Sindh Wildlife Department, plans satellite tagging of more dolphins to further monitor their migration pattern, movement and behavior. The first dolphin was tagged in 2009, which, according to the WWF, provided important information about the species. Dr Uzma Khan, a lahore-basedwildlife expert, said the Indus dolphin was found in Pakistan’s all major rivers like Satluj, and Beas until a few decades ago. Though, there is no survey or record to suggest exactly when they became extinct, there might be connection between the water infrastructure development and the dolphin’s extinction in respective rivers. ” The current situation is quite encouraging as far as the numbers of dolphins are concerned but future challenges need effective planning and work for the conservation of the mammal in future,” Uzma maintained.