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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kratie fears loss of dolphin

Kratie fears loss of dolphin

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Kampi, in Kratie province, is just one of countless Cambodian fishing villages that calls the Mekong River home.

About 130 families make up the tiny community of subsistence farmers and fishermen, 230 kilometres north of the Kingdom’s capital.

Photo Supplied
An Irrawaddy dolphin surfaces for air while swimming in the Mekong River in Kratie province.

Kampi also boasts one of Cambodia’s most unusual eco-tourism draws.

Thousands of tourists arrive in Kampi and several neighbouring villages each year to catch a glimpse of the portly, slate-blue creatures known as Irrawaddy dolphins.

Round-headed and stockier than their more familiar oceanic cousin, the bottlenose dolphin, they have become famous throughout the region for their odd looks.

They are also frighteningly close to extinction.

Kampi is worried that further decreases in  dolphin numbers will dampen its main source of tourism.

Locals can make upwards of US$3 a day for each tourist staying overnight in their homes, according to a statement from the Cambodian Rural Development Team, a local NGO.

Group tours can bring in considerably more. Chartering a boat to tour the dolphins’ habitat costs upwards of $9 a person.

CRDT also offers three-day trips that “cost around US$60 in total, much of which is then given to the locals”, CRDT executive director Sum Mao says.

Enticed by this tourism revenue, locals have begun working in collaboration with the CRDT to construct fish farms to help conserve the dolphins’ dwindling food supply.  

“By using these farms, villagers on the Mekong are able to eat fish without depleting the dolphins’ supply”, Sum Mao says.

Fishing with nets in the region has been outlawed, as has the practice of fishing with grenades and collecting dead fish that float to the surface.

CRDT has also provided “a range of livelihood alternatives in 11 villages situated around the six highest priority deep-pool conservation areas”.

Sum Mao lists such initiatives as “teaching to raise livestock or chickens, and rice farming” along with various other measures.

He say CRDT has been working to provide the village with renewable energy sources such as solar power to soften the impact of environmental degradation on the Mekong.

Such intricate care for the creatures was not always taken.  In the late 1960s and early 1970s, many dolphins were killed when the US practised its bombing campaign over rural Cambodia.

For years afterwards, hungry villagers, dismayed that they could not eat the dolphins, would shoot them for entertainment.

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