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Casino dolphins to go

Four endangered Irrawaddy dolphins that were illegally captured from a wildlife sanctuary

six months ago were to be released from captivity at the Koh Kong International Resort

Casino late on July 4, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced.

Casino owner Ly Yong Phat has agreed to release the mammals after Sun Hean, the assistant

to Minister Chan Sarun, visited the enclosure in early June. The visit followed a

letter from the minister in March, demanding the casino release all Irrawaddy and

Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins it had captured.

Sun Hean said the four dolphins would be released into the sea in front of their

enclosure and had a good chance of survival.

"The Irrawaddy dolphins still have wild behavior and have no experience of being

trained and kept in captivity," Hean said. "I am very happy they are being

released."

He said Cambodian tradition demanded the dolphins would be covered in perfume and

powder and blessed by monks before their release, but MAFF would not allow this as

it would stress them.

"It needs to be very quiet and we don't want to have any such strange culture

involved," he said.

The casino will be allowed to keep the remaining eight Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins.

Sun Hean said they were in a large, high standard enclosure and were being trained.

"Ly Yong Phat said that he is an animal lover, not an animal killer, and that

the eight dolphins are his life," Hean said.

However Isabel Beasley at the Widllife Conservation Society said no aquarium in the

world had a sustainable population of captive dolphins.

"Irrawaddy and humpback [dolphins] have very shy personalities," she said.

"They don't like humans, they are hard to train, and it is easy for them to

suffer trauma."

"I really do believe it is not feasible for [the owner] to keep the dolphins.

They are not trainable, they are going to die," she said. "It is better

for him and the dolphins to release them."

Koh Kong villagers who bludgeoned four Irrawaddy dolphins to death and ate them

in June were reprimanded by government fisheries officers. Fisheries Director Nao

Thouk said they were not fishermen and lived in a remote area, and so did not realize

the dolphins were protected.

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