11 countries sign declaration to halt extinction of world’s 6 remaining river dolphin species
By Ryan General
November 22, 2023
A global initiative to rescue the world’s six surviving river dolphin species is being championed by 11 Asian and South American nations.
On the brink of extinction: River dolphins, which dwell in vital waterways like the Amazon and Ganges, have seen a 73% decline since the 1980s due to various threats, including pollution, habitat loss and unsustainable fishing. The recent deaths of over 150 river dolphins in the drought-ravaged Lake Tefé highlight the increasing peril posed by climate change.
Historic initiative: In response to the alarming decline, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Peru and Venezuela signed the Global Declaration for River Dolphins in Bogotá, Colombia. The project, revealed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) International in October, aims to combat threats to the species’ survival, ranging from unsustainable fishing to climate change.
Reversing the decline: The declaration emphasizes eradicating gillnets, reducing pollution, expanding research and increasing protected areas. Daphne Willems, WWF lead for the River Dolphin Rivers initiative, underscored the declaration’s importance to ensure the survival of all six river dolphin species.
“Together we can drive real progress and show that a nature-positive, resilient and sustainable future is possible,” Willems said.
The tragedy of the baiji: The Chinese river dolphin, or baiji, met a tragic end as the first dolphin species driven to extinction by human activities. The species, whose ancient Lipotidae family called the Yangtze River home for 20 million years, was officially declared extinct in 2007. The construction of the Three Gorges Dam, coupled with noise pollution from increased human activity, dealt the final blow to the species. The baiji’s extinction also marked the end of the ancient Lipotidae family, unique in its evolutionary separation from other river dolphins 20 million years ago.
Conservation success stories: While the overall picture is grim, conservation efforts have shown success in some densely populated river basins.
In Pakistan, collective action has nearly doubled the population of endangered Indus river dolphins over the last two decades. Similarly, the critically endangered Yangtze finless porpoise population has increased by 23% due to strict protection measures and conservation efforts. WWF’s electronic pinger initiative in Indonesia has also proven effective in protecting river dolphins.
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