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
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
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.
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