Regional and international initiatives




Why are regional and international initiatives needed for river dolphin conservation?

Where the range of a particular river dolphin population is restricted to a single country, a national action plan may be the most important tool for protecting that population. However, many river dolphin populations and prey species have ranges that cross national boundaries. For these populations, trans-boundary regional or international collaboration is essential to ensure that measures to protect the population include the entire range. Furthermore, the river systems in which they live, may be impacted by activities in multiple countries. For example, a dam constructed on the Mekong River in China may impact water flow in Irrawaddy dolphin habitats in Cambodia. Finally, countries from outside the range of threatened river dolphin populations may have resources or technical expertise that can support the efforts of local or national stakeholders. For all these reasons, regional or international initiatives have an important role to play in river dolphin conservation.

Regional collaboration

Collaboration between countries sharing the same river basins and species can be particularly effective. Often (although not always) these countries share languages, cultures, and are combatting the same threats in similar settings. Scientists and conservation organisations can collaborate to mount trans-boundary research projects or can pool data and resources to gain a more complete understanding of a species’ distribution, habitat use, conservation status and threats. Examples of this type of regional collaboration include:

  • Action Plan for South American River Dolphins 2010-2020: This Strategy was supported by several regional and international NGOs and was drafted collaboratively by a group of experts on river dolphins.  The document contains chapters on the status of South American river dolphins as well as information on river dolphin populations (threats, abundance, conservation and research needs, etc.) in all Amazonian countries. The regional plan is being used to inform national plans in Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, as well as the IWC Conservation Management Plan for South American River Dolphins.
  • SAWEN – South Asian Wildlife Enforcement Network: The South Asian Wildlife Enforcement Network promotes regional cooperation to combat wildlife crime in South Asia. It was formally established in 2011, and is an organised and coordinated body of eight countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

International collaboration

International collaborations and initiatives involving intergovernmental organisations or international NGOs can harness global support, resources and expertise. Such international collaborations can ensure that experiences and expertise are shared between stakeholders working with river dolphins on different continents. Furthermore, scientists, conservation organisations, governments and even industries operating outside of river dolphin habitats have a role to play in contributing to best practices, which can include, for example, lessons learned from marine cetacean conservation efforts, models of river habitat restoration, effective regulation and management to reduce threats, and sustainable sourcing of raw materials (e.g. cotton or palm oil).

Examples of international collaborations and initiatives that support river dolphin conservation include:

  • The WWF Global river dolphin Initiative: This initiative brings together WWF scientists and conservation experts and partners from across the world, and particularly from Asia and South America, to address the most urgent threats and halt river dolphin declines.
  • Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) Concerted Actions: A CMS Concerted Action (CA) entails a pledge by countries that share a migratory species and other stakeholders to work together to conserve the species. During the CMS Conference of Parties (COP13) in India in February 2020, the Indian government presented two CAs that were endorsed by the Conference for the  Ganges river dolphin and Irrawaddy dolphin.
  • The International Whaling Commission has several conservation management tools and initiatives that are benefitting river dolphins. These include:
    • The IWC Bycatch Mitigation Initiative that provides expert advice and support on the most effective ways to monitor and reduce dolphin bycatch in fisheries;
    • The IWC Strandings Initiative, which, like the Bycatch Initiative, has an Expert Panel that can provide (real time) advice and support on responding to strandings of live or dead animals, to perform successful rescues and/or collect valuable data;
    • IWC South Asian River Dolphin Task Team was formed in 2017 to assess emerging threats to the two subspecies (Ganges and Indus river dolphins) caused by the loss of habitat across India, Pakistan and Nepal; and,
    • The IWC Conservation Management Plan for South American River dolphins  represents the first regional effort made by the governments in South America to set up lines of action to conserve all river dolphin populations across the Amazon, Orinoco and Tocantins-Araguaia river basins. The plan was drafted collaboratively between government representatives and researchers, and was endorsed by the IWC Scientific and Conservation Committees in their 2020 meetings.
  • The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC) has two Groups that are focused on river dolphin conservation:
    • The IUCN SSC Cetacean Specialist Group, which comprises over 100 members around the world with expertise on whale and dolphin conservation. Members of this group consult with NGOs and intergovernmental organisations to ensure that river dolphin conservation priorities are addressed at all levels, and provide technical support to conservation efforts on the ground.
    • The IUCN SSC Integrated Conservation Planning for Cetaceans (ICPC) involves marine mammal conservationists working together to consider the full range of tools that may be needed to save species, following IUCN guidelines to consider both in situ measures and ex situ options, to create and implement an integrated conservation plan for each threatened dolphin and porpoise species and population, prioritized by their conservation status, the imminence of catastrophic decline, and the potential for effective mitigation2.


  1. Taylor, B.L., Abel, G., Miller, P., Gomez, F., von Fersen, L., DeMaster, D.P., Reeves, R.R., Rojas-Bracho, L., Wang, D., Cipriano, F., 2020. Ex situ options for cetacean conservation: December 2018 workshop, Nuremberg, Germany, Occasional Paper of the IUCN Species Survival Commission IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.