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Irrawaddy dolphin

A 1992 study by the Lao government and NGOs, including

EII, originally put the number of dolphins at 30-40. Studies since have

increased this estimate to 100-200.

They are most commonly found in the

network of deep water pools and flooded forest that stretches approximately 200

kilometers between Laos and Cambodia. There have also been reported sightings

further into Laos and as far south into Cambodia as the Tonlé Sap

lake.

It is believed dolphins follow fish as they migrate into the

flooded areas at the beginning of rainy season, returning into the main river

when water levels fall in November.

This section of the river is one of

the most productive fish breeding areas in the Mekong and is the center of the

most intensive explosives fishing.

The Irrawaddy are part of local

culture on both sides of the border. The Lao call them "pa-ya-pi" or "people

fish," believing them to be reincarnated people. There are many stories of

dolphins saving people from drowning and crocodile attacks and helping fishermen

by driving fish into their nets.

Although reports exist of dolphins being

shot for target practice by troops and drowned in fishing nets, they are seldom

deliberately hunted.

The main harm to them comes from being accidentally

caught in the blast area of explosives. Between January and July 1993, six

dolphins were reported killed this way near one Lao border village alone.

Excessive fishing also threatens the dolphin's food supply.

The Irrawaddy

dolphin has already disappeared from the Chao Praya river in Thailand. It is

under threat from pollution, logging and dam construction in China's Yangtze

river, Brazil's Amazon and the Ganges of India.

While pollution is not

yet a serious problem for the section of the Mekong between Laos and Cambodia,

the area is still recovering from the damage done during the Vietnam war when

American forces bombed the area as part of their effort to cut the Ho Chi Minh

trail.

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