March 7, 2007 / 12:51 PM / 12 years ago

Rare Mekong dolphin making a comeback

A fisherman casts a net on the Mekong River in the Kampi district of northeastern Cambodia - the home of the largest group of Cambodia's rare Mekong, or Irrawady, dolphins, in this April 26, 2002 file photo. Cambodia's rare Mekong dolphin is making a tentative comeback from the edge of extinction after net fishing was banned in its main habitat, Cambodian and World Wildlife Fund officials said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia’s rare Mekong dolphin is making a tentative comeback from the edge of extinction after net fishing was banned in its main habitat, Cambodian and World Wildlife Fund officials said on Wednesday.

There are now about 160 dolphins, up from only 90 before net fishing was banned last year in the upper Mekong River in the eastern provinces of Kratie and Steung Treng borders, they said.

The absence of gillnets strung in the river, allowing dolphins from other reaches of the river to move in, was the main reason for the sudden jump in numbers, the officials said.

“We should have about 20 new babies born every year if the current trend continues,” Touch Seang Tana, chairman of Commission for Mekong Dolphins Conservation, told Reuters.

“Within five years, we’ll be worried we will not have enough fish for dolphins to eat because humans also need fish,” he said.

Fishing was banned in the area last year and local people encouraged to grow crops or work in the growing tourism industry instead of fishing.

“The awareness, conservation and provision of alternative livelihoods to fishermen, have helped reduced adult mortalities,” the WWF said in a statement.

Conservationists believe an estimated 1,000 dolphins, also known as Irrawady dolphins, live in India, Myanmar and Thailand.

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