Cambodia’s Mekong dolphin is dying despite efforts to save it

The fishing gangs visit the river at night and the rangers do nothing to stop them.

Working in large groups, the boatmen use fishing methods that have long been outlawed in this part of the mighty Mekong River like gillnetting, which uses nets that hang like a curtain in the water and snag fish by their gills, and electrofishing.

Normally, the rangers would intervene. But these days, they hang back out of a mix of intimidation and sympathy for neighbours made desperate by the pandemic.

Cambodia’s strict fishing rules, first imposed in 2006, are crucial to the fortunes of the Mekong dolphin, giving the rare but nationally beloved animal a chance at survival after decades of population decline.

But while dolphin conservation is broadly popular in Cambodia’s poor river communities – and some make money from the visitors they bring – the economic stresses of the prolonged pandemic border closures forced some into desperate measures to feed their families.

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Saqib Rahim