A case has been registered against a man in Sindh province of Pakistan, for mishandling an endangered Indus dolphin and causing its death.

Khadim Hussain was arrested after a video of him carrying the blind dolphin out of the water, on his shoulders, went viral on social media.

The incident happened on Oct. 30 near a minor distributary of the Sukkur Barrage system near Nawabshah, some 165 miles (ca. 266 km) from the city of Karachi.

According to the police, villagers saw a stranded baby blind dolphin in the canal. While a few of them jumped into the canal, it was Hussain who caught the baby dolphin, put it on his shoulders and came out of the canal.

In the video, dozens of people are seen gathered around Hussain while he carries the baby dolphin on his shoulders. The crowd keeps cheering him and touching the dolphin, and after a while, disperses.

The dolphin was later found dead close to the canal.

The Sindh Wildlife Department (SWD) filed a complaint with the police.

“Hussain took away the dolphin and, as a result of mishandling, the dolphin died. A case has been registered against Hussain under the Sindh Wildlife Act 2020,” reads the police report.

Javed Mahr, the chief conservator of the Sindh Wildlife Department, told Zenger News that the communities living near the habitat of these endangered species, along the Sukkur Barrage irrigation system, were aware that they had to reach out to the SWD in case they found a dolphin.

“Usually, if the local community finds a stranded dolphin, they do inform us,” he said. “This incident happened as the baby dolphin had swum too far from its usual habitat and the locals did not know how delicate dolphins are.”

He said that this year, as many as 18 rescue operations have been carried out in the area and all of them had been successful.

“There is always a chance of mortality even when the rescue operations are conducted by us,” said Mahar. “But our teams have more experience and expertise in handling these dolphins.”

Dr. Uzma Khan, Asia Coordinator, River Dolphins River Initiative of World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), said that she was horrified by the incident.

“Canal stranding is a regular feature and almost every year about eight dolphins are stranded in canals; these dolphins have to be relocated to the Indus River physically,” she said. “I have been working for the protection of dolphins for almost two decades and have never heard of or seen such an incident. Dolphins are very sensitive and the way it was handled, as could be seen in the video, was horrendous.”

She said the strict action taken by the authorities was a good thing because the government should send out a strong message about protecting dolphins.

According to the WWF, the Indus River Dolphin, also known as the Blind Dolphin and bulhan in the Sindhi language, is found in the Indus River. It is the second most endangered freshwater dolphin species in the world. Three endangered species are found in a small stretch of the River Indus, near the Sukkur Barrage.

A blind Indus River dolphin died recently due to mishandling. Photo: World Wide Fund for Nature

The Indus Dolphins can be found only in lower parts of the Indus River in Pakistan, and in the River Beas, a tributary of the Indus River in Punjab, India.

Due to the construction of numerous dams and barrages along the Indus River in Pakistan, the dolphins are now confined to a 750-mile stretch of the river and divided into isolated populations.

Khan said that WWF conducted a survey in 2017 and found out that there were 1816 dolphins.

“The population has increased due to community awareness conducted by SWD. The survey conducted in 2001 had found out that there were only 965 dolphins in the Indus River. According to the latest survey, out of the total 1816 dolphins, 1,075 are in a 124-mile area between Guddu and Sukkur barrages.”

While animal lovers in the country are still in a state of shock over the mishandling and death of the baby dolphin, the SWD is already gearing up to rescue another dolphin, which is stranded in an irrigation canal system in Sindh.

Adnan Hamid, SWD’s Deputy Conservator Wildlife, said that a grown dolphin had been sighted at the Guddu Barrage irrigation system, over 100 miles away from the site where the other baby dolphin was stranded.

“The dolphin has entered Sindh from Punjab and has been seen in the irrigation canal. At the moment it is not in any kind of danger,” said Hamid who is leading the rescue mission. “We have asked villagers to ensure that no harm comes to it.”

Mahar said that in order to rescue the dolphin from the Guddu Barrage, the SWD officials would have to wait for the water to go down.

“At present, there is 10 to 12 feet of water in the canal and rescue operations cannot be conducted in such deep water. But we cannot drain the water either as it is meant for irrigation, so we are still devising a strategy to rescue it.”

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Anindita Ghosh)

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