A 24-hour patrol system in the Anlong Kampi Irrawaddy Dolphin Conservation Zone in Kratie province has resulted in positive outcomes.

The initiative has led to a decline in dolphin mortality and a welcomed upswing in newborn dolphins, according to Nuth Rithy, head of the Mekong River guards based in Kampi. 

Despite these gains, Rithy said the freshwater dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) continue to face lingering risks.

During a media tour on December 2 within the expansive 20sq km area, spanning from Koh Trong to Kampi in the province’s Sambo district, Rithy noted the presence of approximately 35 to 40 dolphins, part of the total 89 dolphins, including those in neighbouring Stung Treng province.

“The continuous 24-hour patrol is facilitated by ample manpower, with 24 conservationists actively patrolling the area. This allows us to effectively deter criminal activities. The substantial personnel strength enables comprehensive coverage across the entire area,” he said.

He added that the count of 89 dolphins dates back to 2020, noting that dolphin censuses occur triennially. The updated statistics on dolphin numbers will be announced by the end of this December.

He also noted that this year witnessed the birth of eight dolphins alongside five deaths, including fatalities from natural aging and incidents involving illegal fishing gear, such as nets and electric shock devices used by “a handful” of fishermen.

Despite diligent efforts in dolphin conservation by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and collaborating organisations, the persistent threat of dolphin loss remains high.

“I urge fishermen to exercise restraint and refrain from employing any fishing gear that jeopardises the lives of dolphins. If this practice persists, it poses a significant threat to our dolphin population, and the local community will lose the income generated from dolphin-watching tourism. 

“The demise of dolphins not only impacts our environment but also threatens a crucial natural resource for our nation,” Rithy said.

Hong Menea

Ministry spokesperson Im Rachna noted that this year’s overall dolphin mortality rate is lower than that of newborn dolphins. In contrast, last year witnessed a higher mortality rate compared to the rate of newborn dolphins.

“This year signifies a positive outcome following the implementation of our protection strategy, coupled with continuous monitoring by our guards, supported by the WWF [World Wide Fund for Nature] Cambodia. Since initiating this mechanism under the coordination of provincial authorities, we have observed a notable rise in the birth rate of dolphins in the Mekong River,” she said.

Rachna said that following the recent demise of a young dolphin in November due to contact with electrical shock equipment, the ministry initiated a campaign to confiscate such illegal fishing devices in provinces along the Mekong River and Tonle Sap Lake.

“In accordance with Minister [Dith Tina’s] stringent directive, those engaging in the criminal use of electrical shock devices will be pursued. We will diligently search until apprehension and enforce legal consequences without exceptions,” she said.

An investigation of the young dolphin’s death in Stung Treng province led to the arrest of two suspects, who were then referred to court.