Unifying commitment for the critically endangered Mekong dolphins
On January 12, the three parties signed the Kratie Declaration on the Conservation of Mekong River Irrawaddy Dolphins after three days of meetings with national and international dolphin experts to discuss urgent conservation actions for critically endangered Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphins.
The Irrawaddy dolphin is one of 58 endangered aquatic species in Cambodia and fully protected under Cambodian Law. The Mekong River sub-population of Irrawaddy dolphins is red-listed as Critically Endangered, the highest International level of concern, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
“It is essential for all of us to think carefully about how to conserve the remaining dolphins. Today is an important step toward building a collaborative effort to prevent the extinction of this animal in the Mekong,” said H.E. Touch Seang Tana, Chairman of the Commission for Dolphin Conservation and Development of Mekong River Dolphin Ecotourism Zone, in his opening statement at the meeting.
Irrawaddy dolphins are an important part of Cambodia’s natural heritage and part of the rich biodiversity of the Mekong River that must be protected for the enjoyment and benefit of future generations. But despite strong efforts to conserve this sub-population by the Dolphin Commission, the Fisheries Administration, and WWF, and a possible decline in the mortality rate in recent years, the population is small and in imminent danger of extinction.
“It is my hope and expectation that the Dolphin Commission, the Fisheries Administration, and WWF will get a clearer understanding of the status of this population and causes of calf mortality,” said H.E. Dr. Nao Thuok, Director General of the Fisheries Administration.
“The Mekong dolphin is globally important as one of only two remaining species of freshwater dolphin in Asia. The disappearance of such a revered Mekong species would be a tragic loss,” said Mr Brian Smith, Director, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group.
The Mekong River sub-population of Irrawaddy dolphins has been declining since the mid 1970s. The latest population estimate by the Fisheries Administration and WWF suggests fewer than 100 adult individuals remain in the river.
The panel of national and international experts put forward key recommendations for immediate conservation actions including: use new technology and methods to improve understanding of dolphin behaviour, population status, and causes of mortality; minimize or eliminate gillnet related mortality through effective law enforcement and monitoring; and more direct involvement of local communities in dolphin conservation.
“It will take a strong and comprehensive effort to save this iconic species from extinction and increase its population in the Mekong. This will require close collaboration among all stakeholders, especially the Fisheries Administration, the Dolphin Commission, and WWF,” said Mr. Seng Teak, Director of WWF-Cambodia.
Participants in the meeting included representatives from the Commission for Dolphin Conservation and Development of Mekong River Dolphin Ecotourism Zone, the Fisheries Administration, Kratie and Stung Treng provincial fisheries authorities, Institut Pasteur du Cambodge, provincial authorities from Kratie and Stung Treng Provinces, Erasmus University in the Netherlands, Institute of Cetacean Research in Japan, JICA, the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, the Marine Mammal Center, California, University of North Carolina, Tokyo National Science Museum University De Las Palmas De Gran Canaria of Spain, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, IUCN, the Wildlife Conservation Society, WWF, and the Zoological Society of London.