Thursday, April 9, 2015

Laos' Irrawaddy Dolphin Population Down to Five Individuals

Irrawaddy dolphin

The Irrawaddy dolphin population in Laos has been reduced drastically to five animals after a deceased female was recently discovered on Cambodia's Cheutal Touch Island close to the Laos-Cambodia border. The incident led to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) imploring the two countries to work together on common resolutions to save the critically endangered dolphin. Weighing 223 kilograms and growing 2.4 meters long, the Irrawaddy dolphin is thought to be one of only six left in a six-kilometer trans-boundary river pool called the Wang Paa Khaa river pool which covers the Laos-Cambodia border. Local people saw the dolphin on the island's beach last Wednesday and immediately notified the river authorities, who then transported her to the town of Kratie in Cambodia for a checkup. Although the cause of death is not yet found, the marks on her body indicated that she was in old age. The dolphins of the Wang Paa Khaa river pool have been struggling to survive in recent years, with people placing gillnets and using illegal fishing methods such as explosives and poison which seriously decimated their population. Entanglement by gillnets has been recognized as the leading cause of dolphin deaths in the river, as fishermen have been using these nets more and more over the last few years. While Cambodia has prohibited gillnet fishing in the whole pool and neighboring areas on its side of the border, Laos only banned their use in the deepest parts of the pool within its area. However, the most sinister of all threats to the dolphins is the proposed construction of the Don Sahong Dam in Laos just three kilometers from the pool. This would involve using explosives to dig millions of tonnes of rock and has the capability to kill or seriously hurt the dolphins' sensitive hearing. It was historically believed that 40-50 dolphins used the trans-boundary pool, but their numbers dwindled to around 25 in the mid-1990s. There are roughly 85 Irrawaddy dolphins left in the Mekong River, with majority of the animals in Cambodia.
A pair of Irrawaddy dolphins

Four months ago, the northern white rhinoceros appeared in the spotlight after the death of one in the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Park, reducing the global population to just five animals. Majority of these remaining rhinos are in captivity, but the fate of the Irrawaddy dolphins in Laos is even worse. The drastic reduction in the population of these dolphins has been due to indiscriminate use of illegal fishing methods such as gillnetting, poisoning, and even using explosives. Unlike its neighbor Cambodia, Laos banned fishing only in the deepest sections of the Wang Paa Khaa river pool making the dolphins more vulnerable to gillnets, explosives, and poisoning. As a result, Laos' dolphin population is down to five animals left. In addition to illegal fishing, the dolphins are under a far greater threat with the planned construction of the Don Sahong Dam. It is highly essential that Cambodia and Laos must work together to prevent further depletion in Laos' dolphin numbers. This includes ending the use of all kinds of illegal fishing gear and placing strict regulations on the use of gillnets and boat traffic. Furthermore, the construction of the Don Sahong Dam should be canceled in order to revive the numbers of these dolphins which are also a major tourist revenue in Cambodia and Laos. The Irrawaddy dolphins are a critically endangered species and should be heavily protected to ensure that their populations survive. Without their presence, the tourism industry in both Cambodia and Laos would be greatly affected.

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