Farsighted plea on Pakistan's sightless dolphins

Experts have asked for a second dolphin reserve in Pakistan to house the blind river dolphin in the wake of a study on the impact of a hydroelectric station at the Tunsa barrage

Published: Saturday 15 August 1992

A NOTED cetacean expert, Randall R Reeves, has pleaded for another dolphin sanctuary in Pakistan's Punjab province to protect the endangered blind river dolphin on the basis of a study on the likely impact of a hydroelectric station at the Tunsa barrage conducted in 1990. The power station, according to Reeves, will contribute to the process of transforming the Indus from a river into a 'managed aqueduct', destroying the very concept of a wildlife sanctuary.

The argument in favour of creating another dolphin reserve is three-fold: The entire future of the species should not be left to the jurisdiction of one province, namely Sind, as it is right now; there is an untapped potential for eco-tourism which can be profitably developed on a modest scale; and, the dolphin is a valuable bio-indicator of the health of the river.

Locally known as bhulan (Platanista minor), the dolphin has been hunted recklessly for the oil in its blubber. Its numbers fell rapidly as more and more dams and barrages were constructed, so much so that bhulan was thought to be extinct until a study in 1974 by Georgio Pilleri of the Swiss Brain Anatomy Institute revealed that this was not so. In the same year, the Sind government made the stretch of Indus between the Sukkur and Guddu barrages a dolphin reserve.

Project officer Fehmida Firdous of the Sind wildlife management board in Karachi estimates that bhulan population has increased from 100 to over 400. International funding of the bhulan research and protection project dried up early in the 1980s, but the board continues to monitor the reserve and its sightless inhabitants. Upstream, in the Punjab province, the bhulan habitat has been fragmented by barrages. It cannot move up or down except in the flood season when the gates are fully open.

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