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Global Ideas

Mega dam threatens Mekong dolphins

Only 80 Mekong River dolphins remain. Conservation efforts are underway in Cambodia but these unique animals are facing a new threat from a mega dam in neighboring Laos.

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Project goal: To protect the last 80 Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong river
Project area: Stretching from Kratié in north-east Cambodia to the Cambodia/Laos border
Project implementation: Establishing protected areas, training fishermen to act as river tour guides (ecotourism), "river guard" inspection trips to prevent illegal fishing with dynamite or gillnets and raising awareness and organizing protests against the Don Sahong dam.
Biodiversity: The Mekong is one of the most biologically diverse rivers in the world outside of the Amazon. Aside from the Irrawaddy dolphins, which are "critically endangered" according to the IUCN Red List, it is also home to at least 1,100 freshwater species including the Mekong giant catfish and the giant freshwater stingray. In the past two decades, scientists have discovered 2,200 new species in the Greater Mekong Subregion from giant flying squirrels to eyeless cave-dwelling spiders. They too are threatened by the developments.

The Mekong River is a lifeline for 60 million people in Southeast Asia. It runs from the Tibetan Plateau through China's Yunnan province, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The river is also the home of the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphin. But pollution as well as fishing with dynamite and gillnets has devastated the dolphin population. There are thought to be just 80 such dolphins left in the Mekong.

In Cambodia, the wildlife protection organization WWF and the government have put in place protective measures to save these unique animals, which look like they are constantly smiling thanks to their bulging foreheads and short beaks. However, the dolphins are facing a new danger: neighboring Laos is planning a large dam with grave consequences for the environment.

A film by Christian Uhlig

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