Irrawaddy Dolphins Near Extinction as Mekong Region Develops

There are only 80 Irrawaddy dolphins left in a loosely-patrolled stretch of the Mekong River in central Cambodia.

Hydropower dams are shrinking freshwater pools in their main habitat, leading to more contact with fishermen who threaten their survival.

Three dolphins died in December, accounting for about 5% of their population in the Mekong. Cambodia’s premier Hun Sen recently called for the creation of conservation zones to protect the mammal, which numbers about 250 globally.

Environmentalists doubt this will be enough in the region, where fishing is technically forbidden but law enforcement is weak.

“While the direct deaths are caused by fishing gear — entanglement in gillnets and longline hooks — this is a problem of Cambodia itself,” said Daphne Willems, a coordinator of river dolphin conservation at the WWF.

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Kevin Varley