February 15, 2006

Rare Dolphin Heading for Extinction in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - The rare Asian dolphin has moved closer to extinction in Cambodia after a series of deaths in fishing nets over the past few weeks, officials said on Wednesday.

Two baby dolphins were found dead in nets on Monday, taking the toll to 10 since early December, said Leang Seng of the fishery office in Kratie Province, 130 miles northeast of Phnom Penh where 90 of the mammals lived.

"This is terrible news, making a serious situation even more critical," said Robert Mather of the World Wildlife Fund's Greater Mekong Program.

There are believed to be about 1,000 of the dolphins alive, with other groups being found in Thai coastal estuaries and a few other freshwater areas in Asia.

Leang Seng said it appeared unlikely Cambodia could save its population because villagers dependent on fish for protein ignored orders not to spread nets in areas where the dolphin lived.

"It is a matter of time," he said. "We lack human resources, technical experts and financial support," he said by telephone.

Most of the dolphins killed in nets over the past few weeks were young calves, adding to the dire prospects for the Cambodian population, at its most vulnerable during the current dry season when the river's level is low.

"If this continues there will be no more breeding," Leang Seng said.