New hope for Mekong River's dolphins
Newly born calf spotted with mother: Break out the cigars and champagne: A young dolphin calf and her mother have been spotted last week in the waters in the Mekong River near the town of Kratie.
It is estimated that only 80 Irrawaddy river dolphins (sometimes called Mekong dolphins [Orcaella brevirostris]) are currently in existence, making the species highly endangered. Stefan Ziegler from WWF Germany called it a glimmer of hope for the dolphins and said that it encouraged his team to continue to fight for the dolphin's protection.
In the past, there were tens of thousands of animals in the Mekong River, Asia's longest river. In recent decades, the number of Irrawaddy river dolphins has plummeted drastically as a result of fisheries making use of electroshock devices, nylon gill nets, poisons and explosives to catch them. The ban of such destructive fishing methods and the employment of river guards have helped to stabilise the dolphin's population. However, Ziegler said, "Their survival still hangs in the balance."
These dolphins continue to be under the threat of pesticides and heavy metals legacies from agriculture and industry. Hydropower plants also pose a threat as they prevent fishes - the dolphin's main prey - from reaching their spawning grounds. In particular, the proposed construction of the Don Sahong Dam in Laos near the Cambodian border is expected to lead to a complete collapse of the fish population, on which the dolphins and fish - as well as the local population - depend on.
Mekong dolphins give birth only every two to three years. The 80 dolphins are concentrated in several deep water pools along a 150-190 kilometre stretch of the Mekong River, between Kratie town and the Laotian border. They can be more than 2.7 metres long and weigh 150 kilogram’s. In 2004, the population declined by seven percent; today, it is 1.6 percent. According to the WWF, although the dolphins continue to be endangered, their population appears to be recovering.
To curb overfishing and illegal fishing, ten community fisheries have been established at WWF Mekong where fishing is strictly prohibited. Sixty-eight river guards have been trained and equipped to enforce this regulation. They are spread over 16 posts and will patrol the dolphin's core habitats and buffer zones. To provide the local population with alternative sources of income, WWF is also working with the local community to promote ecotourism and dolphin-watching.
More information: www.wwf.de