Cambodia strives to save endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in Mekong River

By VNA / DA NANG Today
March 17, 2023, 09:22 [GMT+7]

The sight of Irrawaddy dolphins swimming in the Mekong River in Cambodia may soon be no more than a memory, as numbers of the endangered mammals dwindle despite efforts to preserve them.

Cambodia has announced tough new restrictions on fishing in the vast river to try and reduce the number of dolphins killed in nets.

But in a country with limited financial resources, it's a huge challenge to enforce the rules on a river hundreds of meters wide dotted with islets and lined with dense undergrowth.

Gillnets - vertical mesh nets left in the water for long periods - trap fish indiscriminately and are the main cause of death for dolphins in the Mekong, according to conservationists.

The extinction of this dolphin species may also directly affect the livelihoods of many local people in the area, which has attracted large numbers of tourists to see the rare dolphins.

In late February, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a new law creating protection zones in which fishing is banned.

Violators face up to a year in jail for using gillnets and up to five years for electrofishing in the conservation areas.

Irrawaddy dolphins - small, shy creatures with domed foreheads and short beaks - once swam through much of the mighty Mekong. The population in the Mekong has dwindled from 200, when the first census was taken in 1997, to just 89 in 2020.

In 2016, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) declared the species functionally extinct after it was found that there were too few potential breeding pairs to sustain the population, as about 70% exceeded the reproductive age.

According to the WWF, besides the Mekong River, this species lives in only two others - the Ayeyarwady of Myanmar and the Mahakam of Indonesia. Irrawaddy dolphin populations in these three rivers have been redlisted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered.

In December 2022, Lao authorities announced that the Irrawaddy dolphin species was extinct in the country, after the last one living in a section of the Mekong River, bordering northeastern Cambodia and Laos, died after being entangled in a fishing net.

Source: VNA