Save Cambodian Dolphin Continues
By Rory Byrne
(VOA) — Once
upon a time, the Mekong River from Laos to Vietnam was teaming with
thousands of freshwater dolphins, before more than thirty
years of warfare and over-fishing
nearly killed them off. But a recent study by the World Wildlife Fund
found just 71 left, living in a short stretch of river from
to southern Laos. An effort to protect the endangered species
by way of an eco-tourism
project was begun several years ago, but is it too little, too late?
boat chugging up the Mekong River in Cambodia represents one
of the last hopes for saving the
endangered Mekong Irrawaddy
Dolphin. The boat is carrying so-called "voluntourists" to
the isolated fishing village of Sambor in northern Cambodia,
which is close to an important breeding ground for some of the
last remaining Mekong freshwater dolphins.
The foreign tourists will live and work in the impoverished
village on the banks of the river in an effort to help protect
the dolphin’s natural habitat, while at the same time helping
to improve the lives of some of the world’s poorest people.
Or Channy is
Executive Director of the Cambodia Rural Development Team (CRDT),
in Kratie, Cambodia. "We are developing agriculture in the
area, improving the health care system and digging wells and toilets.
But most importantly we are trying to save the dolphins by providing
local fishermen with an alternative way to earn a living through
tourism," he said.
Or Channy, Executive Director of the Cambodia Rural Development
VOA Photo / Photo by Rory
Tourists pay about $60 for their three day stay in the village
most of which goes directly into the pockets of local people.
In a country where almost almost half the people earn about
a dollar a day, villagers here can earn $3 per tourist per night
for sleeps overs, plus $2 for every meal.
for earning an income from tourism, the villagers work to conserve
the Irrawaddy dolphin’s natural habitat. They
have constructed fish farms in the village to help conserve the
dolphin’s dwindling food supply. Fishing with nets and explosives
in the river has been banned while at the same time villagers
are being encouraged to view the dolphins as an important natural
asset that can help attract growing numbers of tourists.
In the past,
people cared little for the mammals, says local historian
the early 1970’s there was a lot of bombing in this area and
many dolphins were killed. Others
died later at the
hands of the local people who considered them to be useless fish
because they could not eat them. They just shot them for fun."
in the village, the tourists help to develop the local economy
by working on development projects such as digging toilets or planting rice
to help alleviate the villager’s over-reliance on fishing.
sun gets too hot for outdoor work, tourists can teach the
local children some words of English. Local people say they
with the scheme.
Srey Bern is the President of the local Development Committee:
"There are a lot of benefits to having foreigners stay
in our village. In the first place we can learn a lot from them
– they give us new ideas and we can learn about their culture.
The extra money helps a lot but for me it is not the most important
thing," he said.
a tourist from Melbourne Australia, says the experience is invaluable
Australian tourist Grace Byrnes.
Photo / Photo by Rory Byrne
"It’s a really great experience and something that you’re not going to
do everyday. You can see that any type of help that you offer is really appreciated
and it’s something that I’d definitely recommend for anyone who wants to come
over to Cambodia," said Byrnes.
Despite an initial spike in dolphin numbers reported in the
months after the scheme was introduced, it remains unclear whether
it will have any lasting impact in saving the remaining dolphins.
Scientists say a deadly new mystery disease seems to be killing
off the dolphin’s babies which is threatening to undo much of
the projects good work.
There are real fears that the disease, which some blame on chemicals
from gold-mining in the area, could soon wipe out the species
But whether the dolphins can be saved or not, the conservation
project is at least helping to improve the lives of some of the
world’s poorest people while at the same time offering tourists,
and local people, a glimpse at completely different way of life.