Monks rally for Mekong dolphins



Posted on 13 January 2012  | 
Saffron-clad Buddhist monks lead a pilgrimage through Koh Pdao, a small island village along the Mekong River in Cambodia. Dozens of villagers follow, displaying banners and posters of the rare Irrawaddy dolphin. The dolphins, characterized by rounded heads and no beak, are getting increasingly harder to spot: Just 85 are estimated to exist in a 124-mile stretch of the Mekong between Kratie, Cambodia, and
Laos. This critically endangered population is now the focus of a major partnership between WWF’s Sacred Earth program and Buddhist monks.

In Cambodia, where people strongly respect and follow Buddhist practices, monks are an effective voice for environmental awareness and protection of endangered species. The monks apply Buddhist teachings to encourage an ecological view that warns against environmental exploitation. The dolphins in the Mekong are sacred to the people of Cambodia, and an important source of income for communities involved in dolphin-watching ecotourism activities and for business owners in Kratie.

Started at a sacred ceremony organized by the Association of Buddhists for the Environment (ABE), the program encourages people to value the dolphin, and is designed to help reduce the biggest threat to dolphins in the Mekong: gill-net fishing. When a dolphin gets entangled in a gill net, the result is often fatal. The monks are also encouraging the protection of other dolphin habitat and the reduction of river pollution from villages and agricultural areas. Through sermons, educational materials, organized meetings and guided pilgrimages, the monks have spread the word to thousands of villagers and hundreds of schoolchildren living near dolphin habitat.

In addition to their work at the village level, WWF and ABE have organized high-level meetings with government officials and other stakeholders. All these groups hold monks in high regard and ABE has skillfully conducted meetings and negotiations on sensitive issues.

Building on 20 years of experience in the region, WWF Greater Mekong will continue to work with the Cambodian government and help coordinate transboundary conservation efforts with Laos, to protect the Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong.
In Cambodia, where people strongly respect and follow Buddhist practices, monks are an effective voice for environmental awareness and protection of endangered species.
© WWF-Cambodia Enlarge
Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella Brevirostris) at Koh Kon Sat, Mekong River, Cambodia. The dolphins were photographed during the dolphin population research conducted by WWF Cambodia's Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project in November 2007.
© David Dove / WWF Greater Mekong Enlarge
WWF and ABE have organized high-level meetings with government officials and other stakeholders.
© WWF-Cambodia Enlarge

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