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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Dolphin report 'unscientific': govt

Dolphin report 'unscientific': govt

Mekong river dolphin

Commission chairman says WWF's report is ‘all a lie', requiring explanation and correction.

AGOVERNMENT official has dismissed as "all a lie" a report from the international conservation group WWF that claims the Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong are on the verge of extinction, in part due to industrial pollutants.

Touch Seang Tana, the chairman of the Commission to Conserve Mekong River Dolphins and Develop Eco-Tourism, said the report was unscientific, and demanded an explanation of the methodology behind WWF's findings, which made international headlines.

Touch Seang Tana said the dolphins on which the WWF carried out autopsies had died in fishing nets and were not killed by toxins.

"The [WWF] should have talked to me. We support working together to alleviate those problems, but they just released [the report] to the world and have destroyed our reputation," he said. "If the dolphins disappear [from Cambodia], it will be recorded in history that Touch Seang Tana destroyed the dolphins."

He said the greatest risk to the survival of the species was overfishing.

The WWF report was written by veterinarian Dr Verne Dove, whom the Post was unable to reach. It warned that toxic contaminants in the Mekong, inbreeding and disease were forcing the dolphin to the brink of extinction. The report stated many dolphins that had died in recent years had neck lesions similar to gangrene, which the group linked to the presence of immuno-toxins such as mercury.

The Irrawaddy dolphins, which inhabit a 190-kilometre stretch of the Mekong in the northeast of the Kingdom, have been listed as critically endangered by WWF since 2004. The group estimates that between 64 and 76 dolphins remain alive.

Nicole Frisina, communications officer for the WWF Greater Mekong Programme, said the group was happy to discuss the findings with Touch Seang Tana and other government agencies.

"Conservation action is urgently needed to prevent this unique population from becoming extinct," she said. "With more deaths than births in a year, the population is in serious decline."

Touch Seang Tana said his research team had found that the dolphin population is in fact on the rise, and estimates the current population at 160 individuals. And he said his organisation had found no evidence of chemical pollutants such as DDT, PCBs and mercury in the area.

He said that had the report been written in Thailand, the government there would have expelled WWF in 48 hours, but that Phnom Penh would be lenient, requiring only that the WWF explain and correct itself.

Ben But, a dolphin tour operator in Kratie, said local conservation work and bans on net fishing were helping to conserve the dolphin. He said he feels the population is growing. "Previously the people didn't know about saving the dolphins, but organisations have come to improve matters."

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