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Irrawaddy dolphins on verge of local extinction in Laos

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Conservationists believe there are now only two Irrawaddy dolphins surviving in the Siphandon Conservation Area in Khong district of southern Laos’ Champasak province. COURTESY OF PHOONSAB THEVONGSA/VIENTIANE TIMES

Irrawaddy dolphins on verge of local extinction in Laos

Officials from Laos’ Department of Livestock and Fisheries are attempting to protect the last two remaining Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River, after two other dolphins died in June.

Conservationists believe there are now only two Irrawaddy dolphins surviving in the Siphandon Conservation Area in Khong district, Champasak province, and the group is now functionally extinct as this number does not constitute a viable breeding population.

Irrawaddy dolphins are one of the protected species named on the government’s List 1 and are also on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Endangered Species.

Given that only two of the dolphins remain, the species will soon no longer exist in Lao river waters.

Champasak borders Cambodia along Choam Ksan and Chheb districts in Preah Vihear province, as well as Thala Barivat and Siem Pang districts and Stung Treng town in Stung Treng province.

According to the fisheries patrol team and authorities monitoring fish sanctuaries for the past couple of years, up until 2021 there were three or four Irrawaddy dolphins but two died in June.

In observing International Freshwater Dolphin Day, authorities said conservation and management measures need to be stepped up, not only to protect Irrawaddy dolphins from extinction, but also to conserve other endangered species in the Mekong River, such as turtles.

The loss of this iconic species for Laos is even more tragic given that it was entirely preventable through strict enforcement against gill net fishing, conservationists said.

The Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River have long been a special attraction for visitors to southern Laos and their disappearance from Lao waters will be a blow to eco-tourism in the area.

Irrawaddy dolphins can be found in some coastal areas in Asia but there are only three freshwater subpopulations, in the Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar, the Mahakam River in Indonesia, and the Mekong River in Cambodia and Laos.

VIENTIANE TIMES/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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