Mekong Dolphin Population Increased for the First Time
For decades, there has been a dramatic decline in the population of the critically endangered river dolphins that reside in the Mekong River. The work of the WWF team in the Mekong Flooded Forest (MFF), one of the primary conservation landscapes in Cambodia, seems to have finally paid off with the number of dolphins rising from 80 to 92 over the past two years – the first recorded increase in over twenty years.
The first documented census conducted in 1997, estimated that there were around 200 Irrawaddy dolphins left in the Mekong. However this has continued to fall every year since. This is due to reasons such as habitat loss resulting from commercial and industrial operations, and dolphins getting caught up as bycatch. Of critical importance, this demonstrates the danger posed by the use of illegal gillnets and highlights the important role that patrol teams play.
River patrol teams work tirelessly to remove threats to this iconic species including the confiscation of illegal gillnets. Over the past two years alone, over 358km of gillnets have been confiscated from the Mekong. This is almost double the length of the habitat range that remains for the population of the river dolphin.
Although the increase in the river dolphin population is news to be celebrated, WWF-Cambodia’s Country Director, Seng Teak, stressed that the efforts to protect the Irrawaddy dolphin need to be strengthened and continued into the future. The survival of the dolphin is a reflection on the health of the Mekong River meaning that the protection provided by the WWF team in the MFF and Fisheries Administration, is integral not only to the existence of the species but for the communities that rely on the river for their livelihood.