Friday, July 3, 2009

Government Denies WWF Report on Mekong Dolphins

BY BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA

The Royal Government of Cambodia has denied the findings of a recent World Wild Fund for Nature report stating that Mekong dolphins in Cambodia face the risk of extinction from pollution and chemical containments in the Mekong River.

Touch Seang Tana, Chairman of the Commission for Conservation and Development of the Mekong River Dolphins Eco-tourism Zone said that the dolphin deaths in Cambodian reaches of the Mekong River were not caused by pollution and chemical containments in the river.

Touch Seang Tana said that according to his long-research and investigations, most of the dolphins died in fishing nets or explosions set off by local fishermen. They did not die, in his opinion, because of pollution, DDT, pesticides or dam projects.

“I do not agree with the WWF report stating the dolphins are dieing as a result of pollution and that they will become extinct in Cambodia. I declare this report to be untrue, a discredit to the Royal Government of Cambodia and an offense to my institution,” he told the press conference on June 24.

The WWF report did not make use of scientific research methods. It was also made without consulting his institution, the only national organization with the authority to work with dolphins in Cambodia, said Seang Tana. He said the WWF report aimed at convincing donors to provide more funds to the group so that they could continue their work in Cambodia.

Seang Tana pointed out that according to his report, there are about 150-160 Mekong dolphins in Cambodian waters, compared to the 64-76 dolphins recorded in the WWF report. He said that each year, the population expanded by around 10 newborn dolphins and since 2003, the population has lost 91 members, not 88 as mentioned by the WWF.

The number of dolphins instead has increased to 160 from the 120 recorded in 2000, according to Seang Tana. He said the WWF report has put Cambodia's burgeoning eco-tourism sector at risk and affected the living of local people in Kratie and Steung Treng provinces.

“The WWF report is destroying the livelihoods of the poor people who live near the dolphin shelters in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces of Cambodia. It would also impact the wider tourism sector, with implications for employment in the sector,” Seang Tana said.

According to Seang Tana, each year, the dolphin tourism zone brings about 20,000 foreign tourists and about 100,000 local tourists to Kratie and Steung Treng provinces.

To redress the balance, the Commission for Conservation and Development of the Mekong River Dolphins Eco-tourism Zone has written a letter dated 21, 2009 to the WWF, asking the experts to clarify matters with the government’s commission, said Seang Tana.

Commenting on the invitation, Tep Asarith, WWF Senior Communications Officer, said that his organization has already received the letter but the WWF country director Seng Teak was not available for the meeting because he was on a mission in Siem Reap province.

Asnarith said that he could not comment on the WWF report and the complaints from the Commission.

“I do not have any comment on this,” he said during a telephone interview with The Southeast Asia Weekly on June 25.

According to the WFF report released on June 18, 88 dolphins have died since 2003 and researchers had found toxic levels of pesticides and environmental contaminants in their analysis of Irrawaddy dolphin calves. The report estimated that between 64 and 76 dolphins remained in the 160-kilometre stretch of the Mekong that runs through Laos and Cambodia. The report said 60 per cent of the 88 deaths had occurred in dolphin calves less than two weeks old. ////



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