WILD ANIMALS IN CAMBODIA

WILD ANIMALS IN CAMBODIA

Cambodia is home to some 521 species of birds, 127 mammals, and 116 reptiles, although recent census counts indicate that some species are locally extinct in the country. An older count identified 123 species of mammal, 82 types of reptiles, 28 kinds of amphibian, and 429 species of bird, and 215 species of freshwater fish. Endangered species include pangolin (scaly anteater), soft-nosed turtle, clouded leopard, kouprey (jungle cow), guar (large wild ox), pileated gibbon, tiger and Asian elephant.

Cambodia’s forest and wildlife sanctuaries were off limits to scientist during the Khmer Rouge years and for more than a decade afterwards. Scientists are now only beginning to throughly study these areas to find out what animals are living there.

Nearly extinct Siamese crocodiles were recently discovered in Cambodia. Giant “royal” turtles thought to be extinct for more than a century were discovered in the early 2000s on a southern river bank. Th turtles weigh up to 31.5 kilograms. They royal family used to dine on their eggs.

A selection of endangered species found in the Cardamom Mountains according to the IUCN Red List: Asian elephant (Elephas maximums): Endangered, Banteng (Bos javanicus): Endangered, Burmese python (Python molurus): Near Threatened, Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa): Vulnerable, Dhole (Cuon alpinus): Endangered, Frog-faced softshell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii): Endangered, Gaur (Bos gaurus): Vulnerable, Green peafowl (Pavo muticus): Endangered, Indochinese tiger ( Panthera tigris corbetti): Endangered, Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus): Vulnerable, Pileated gibbon (Hylobates pileatus): Endangered, Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis): Critically Endangered, Smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata): Vulnerable, Southwest Chinese serow (Capricornis sumatraensis): Near Threatened

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Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area

In 2008 the Wildlife Conservation Society reported: “In Cambodia, the trees are alive with the sounds of monkeys, according to a recent survey by the Wildlife Conservation Society(WCS). The report reveals surprisingly large populations of two globally endangered primates in one of this Southeast Asian country’s protected areas. Scientists from WCS together with the Royal Government of Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries searched an area of 300 square miles within the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area. They counted 42,000 black-shanked doucs and 2,500 yellow-cheeked crested gibbons. The estimate represents the world’s largest known populations for both species. The researchers believe total populations within the 1,150-square-mile landscape surrounding Seima may be even bigger. [Source: Wildlife Conservation Society, August 28, 2008]

Prior to this discovery, the largest known populations of the two primate species were believed to live in adjacent Vietnam, where black-shanked doucs and yellow-cheeked crested gibbons number at 600 and 200 respectively. Their total population figures remain unknown. The Cambodian census took place in a former logging area where the two primates were once extensively hunted. In 2002, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries declared the region a conservation area and began working with WCS on site management and planning for conservation and local development. In the years since the joint program began, the primates began to recover. Their populations have remained stable since 2005.

The primates have also benefited from a cessation of logging activities, a nation-wide gun confiscation program implemented in the 1990s, and a habitat where there is plenty to eat. But WCS researchers in Cambodia remain concerned that looming threats could jeopardize recent successes. “Despite this good news in Cambodia, the area still remains at risk from conversion to agro-industrial plantations for crops, including biofuels, and commercial mining,” said Tom Clements, the lead author of the report. “WCS is therefore committed to continuing to work with the Cambodian government to ensure that these globally important primate populations will remain secure.”

WCS has worked with the Royal Government of Cambodia since 1999, helping to establish the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area and developing landscape-level conservation programs in the Northern Plains and Tonle Sap Great Lake.

Poaching, Protecting Wildlife and the Illegal Animal Trade in Cambodia

Animal parts from endangered animals have been sold openly in Phnom Penh. In the early 2000s at Orussie market and Street 166 in Phnom Penh shops and vendors openly sell body parts from endangered animals; guar skulls, tiger teeth and bones, bear bile, crocodile heads elephant tails, ivory, antlers, lizard skins and feathers from are birds. Occasionally shops had skins from tigers and clouded leopards.

Phnom Penh’s Central Market used to openly sell bear paws, bear skins and crucified monkey according to AP. Elephant tails sold for $200 a piece. Activists with the Conservation International counted six tails in one shop. Many animal parts are sold at traditional medicine shops. One place sold business-card pieces of elephant skin to treat migraines for 20 cents a piece; tiger bones for arthritis at $1.59 per 10 grams.

Trade in illegal animals thrived in Piopet near the Thai border. One of the biggest selections of endangered animals in Southeast Asia was reportedly found at Piopet's market. Many of the poachers that worked there were former Khmer Rouge members. The Khmer Rouge used to catch wild animal to feed its soldier.s

Animals survey in the Cardamom mountains have indicated a shortage of large animals which is an indicator of poaching. Villagers often use snares to catch animals. Most of the animal are believed to be transported through Vietnam to China. Animals smugglers, who are rarely caught of punished, are thriving.

Cambodia has signed international conventions outlawing the wildlife trade and passed local laws that make poaching and selling endangered animals a crime. Poachers are hard to catch and wildlife sellers can often escape prosecution by paying bribes, or using loopholes such as one that allows people to keep wild animals as pets.

Mines planted by the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian army have kept away intruders and protected animals in remote jungles, particularly in area s controlled by the Khmer Rouge. Conservationists have helped the Cambodians set up forest patrols to battle poachers and illegal loggers. Thus far their budgets are limited to a few hundred thousand dollars.

Cardamom Mountains

Cardamom Mountains (near the Thai border in southwest Cambodia) are named after the sweet spice that grows along the mountain’s slopes. It is home to lovely waterfalls, moss-covered rocks, wild orchids, tigers, clouded leopards, pileated gibbons, sun bears, Siamese crocodiles, giant blue-winged butterflies and other rare animals. Rain forests cover more than three million hectares and are in remarkably pristine conditions.

The Cardamom Mountains of Koh Kong and Pursat provinces are said to be the most pristine wilderness area remaining in Southeast Asia. The western edge of the Cardamom region abuts the Thai border, while the easternmost part ends about sixty miles northwest of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. The region's area is 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares). The highest point in the range (and in Cambodia) is Mount Aural, at 1,813 meters (5,946 feet). There are five main rivers that run through the Cardamoms, creating dozens of waterfalls. About 25,000 people live in this region, some of whom are ethnic minorities, such as the Porr.

Khmer Rouge guerrillas retreated to the Cardamoms after losing power in 1979, and for the next twenty years, no one wanted to enter that area for fear of the KR and the mines they placed in it. As a result, the region remained untouched and undeveloped. Thousands of Cambodians left the country before and during the KR holocaust by walking over the Cardamoms into refugee camps in Thailand.Today, the Cardamom Mountains region is the largest wilderness in mainland Southeast Asia, preserving a remarkable number of species that are endangered (and in some cases extinct) elsewhere in the world. However, without proper conservation and protection, this area and its inhabitants are now at the mercy of logging interests, as well as poachers.

Nick Boulos wrote in the Washington Post, “Until recently, the Cardamom Mountains were simply off-limits. War raged in these quiet emerald peaks, named for the heady spice that grows here, until the mid-1990s. The area was the last stronghold of Khmer Rouge rebels who retreated here after the 1979 collapse of Pol Pot’s brutal regime. For more than a decade, bloody battles continued to break out between the guerrillas and local villagers. When the guns finally fell silent, the locals had lost everything. Forced to exploit their natural resources to survive, they hunted wildlife and destroyed the forests. But despite their dark past and a back story worthy of the Hollywood treatment, the Cardamoms remain a place of astounding beauty. And with peace has come tourism.[Source: Nick Boulos, Washington Post, August 10, 2012]

“With the help of the Wildlife Alliance — an American nonprofit organization that works alongside national governments to promote conservation and alleviate poverty in Southeast Asia — the communities here have reclaimed their destiny. Landmines have been cleared, former battlefields have become prime trekking territory, and the men who once fought the rebels now lead guided walks along deserted trails. The women, meanwhile, have opened their homes as guesthouses, with all in the community benefiting from the profits.”

Today, the rainforests are threatened mostly by land concessions for monoculture plantations. At one point the Cambodian government announced it would not be granting any new economic land concessions—which have cut out swathes of forest for plantation even in protected areas—but since then has announced several concessions.

Flora and Fauna in the Cardamom Mountains

The Cardamom Mountains are rich in wildlife and contain some of the best rainforest remaining in Southeast Asia. The French used to hunt for rhinoceros and black leopards here. More than 250 bird species have been counted and the largest population of Asian elephants in Cambodia, numbering about a hundred individuals, roams the forest. A survey of the area in the early 2000s revealed seven new species of amphibians, perhaps one new snake species, several new species of small mammal and as many as 800 new insect species.

One reason that the forests are still so alive is that the Khmer Rouge had their last stronghold here. They planted so many mines that loggers and settlers have been reluctant to move in. This is changing however. Already squatters have moved in and timber has been harvested in places where mines have been removed.

Despite the minimal area under observation the survey identified 30 large mammal species, 30 small mammal species, more than 450 birds, 64 reptiles, 30 amphibians, and many other plants and insects. To name just a few of the animals indigenous to this area would include elephants, tigers, clouded leopards and a variety of other mammals such as the Malaysian sun bear, pleated gibbons, and Siamese crocodiles all of which are high on the endangered species list and the only significant population thought to exist anywhere.

In 2000, Fauna and Flora International, Conservation International, and the Cambodian Ministry of Environment and Wildlife Protection Programme conducted a joint survey that covered only a small part of the vast expanse of unexplored land. The Cardamom Mountains are now known to contain almost all the country's known mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. This is partly due to the very high diversity of habitats, some of which occur nowhere else in Cambodia, such as large expanses of fire-regulated ferns, upper montane forest, high elevation marshes and blackwater rivers.

The Cardamom Mountain Wildlife Sanctuaries Project—a joint venture of Fauna & Flora International and Cambodia's Ministry of Environment— aims to ensure the long-term conservation of a landscape of global importance and its biodiversity while reducing poverty and ensuring essential national development. The focus is to establish and maintain management systems in two protected areas in south-west Cambodia: Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary and Phnom Aural Wildlife Sanctuary.

Wildlife Sanctuaries in the Cardamoms

There are two wildlife sanctuaries in the Cardamoms, both of which were decreed by King Norodom Sihanouk in 1993 solely on the basis of aerial photographs. Mt. Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary is in the western part of the range, and Mt. Aural Wildlife Sanctuary is in the east. These are "paper"parks only: they exist only by law, with none of the active management necessary for a wildlife preserve.

Mt. Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary on the Thai border occupies the eastern part of the Cardamon range. Mt. Aural Wildlife sanctuary, west of Phnom Penh, occupies the eastern side. There is some discussion about turning the central Cardamon mountains and forests there into a reserve. If all goes according to plan the reserve would be linked with Mt. Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary and Mt. Aural Wildlife sanctuary, creating the largest green corridor in mainland Southeast Asia with a total area of 2.44 million acres. There is a lot of resistance to the plan, particularly from logging companies that already have concessions there.

Bats of the National Museum of Cambodia

During the Khmer Rouge years between 1975 and 1979, the museum was taken over by three species of squeaking, insect-eating bats, which over time became more famous than the objects in the museum . By the mid-1990s, the museum was home to a million bats, which dropped an estimated one ton of corrosive guano every month. The mess required thorough daily cleaning of the floors and statues and spraying of insecticide to keep away the fleas that lived on the bats. Most of the guano collected on the wood ceiling below the bats. In the dry season the guano turned to dust and settled on anything below it. During the rainy season the guano ran down the walls and collected in pools. It not only smelled bad the guano became more acidic in the high humidity and damaging to the art work.

Some tourist were so worried about bat guano they wore Vietnamese-style conical hats when they visited, Some employees at the museum made a handsome profit collecting the guano and selling it as fertilizer and trapping bats and selling their blood and meat, which are regarded as delicacies in Cambodia and Vietnam. Conservationists wanted the bats to be left alone because they ate lots of insects and one of the three species, Theobald’s tomb bats, were not common. The other two species. the wrinkle-lipped bat and beared tomb bat are fairly common.

By the early 2000s, there were maybe two million bats in the museum building, the largest population to inhabit a building anywhere in the world. For a while there discussions about building a second ceiling to separate the bats from the museum room but there was never enough money to do that. Finally in the early 2000s the bats were driven out by simply sealing the places where the bats entered the building after a night of feeding on insects in the city.

Beautiful' New Snake Discovered in Cambodia

In July 16, 2012, Jeremy Hance of mongabay.com wrote: Scientists have discovered a new snake species in the biodiverse rainforests of the Cardamom Mountains, reports Fauna & Flora International (FFI). The new reddish-hued serpent has been named after its country of origin by native herpetologist Neang Thy: the Cambodian kukri (Oligodon kampucheaensis). [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com , July 16, 2012]

"Cambodian science was smashed under the Pol Pot regime, and only now are we picking up the pieces. It gave me a great sense of pride to both discover and describe this species, and to name it in honor of my country," Thy, a Ministry of Environment officer who also works with FFI, said in a press release. Last year, Thy discovered a new species of legless lizard, also in the Cardamom Mountains. He adds that, "Most kukri snakes are dull-colored, but this one is dark red with black and white rings, making it a beautiful snake."

Kukri snakes are named after distinctive daggers from Nepal, due to the similarity between the knives' shapes and the kukri snakes' fangs. Harmless to humans, kukri snakes use their fangs to puncture eggs, which they then swallow whole. "The Cambodian kukri snake is the second new reptile we have described this year in Cambodia,” said Berry Mulligan, FFI's Cambodia Program Country Manager. "This shows how important it is that we fight to conserve this area."

Rare Cambodian Turtle Saved from Soup by Microchip

In July 2005, Reuters reported: “An extremely rare Cambodian “royal” turtle has been rescued from a Chinese soup pot by a microchip implanted in its leg, officials said Thursday. The interception of the animal in Vietnam on its way to China was hailed by international conservation experts as a major success in the war against smugglers of rare wildlife in Asia, whose prey often end up on Chinese menus or in traditional medicine. “A very important turtle has returned home,” Doug Hendrie, the Asian turtle coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society, said in a statement. [Source: Reuters, July 21, 2005]

The rescue was “a clear and very positive example” of international cooperation, he said of a turtle which also inhabits mangrove forests in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Malaysia,. The 33-lb (15 kg) turtle, one of fewer than 10 known to live in Cambodia, was discovered by inspectors in a crate of confiscated wildlife in Vietnam. “Without the microchip which we implanted in its right leg, the turtle would have ended up on a Chinese menu,” said Heng Sovannara of the Cambodian fishery department’s endangered species office funded by the New York-based WCS.

The turtle, which Heng Sovannara said was more than 35 years old, was originally released in the southwestern Cambodian district of Sre Ambel two years ago. Cambodian fishermen caught it there in June, then smuggled it into Vietnam, where inspectors using devices for monitoring microchips discovered it, Heng Sovannara said. The male turtle was now back in Cambodia and being nursed back to health before a decision was made about whether it could be released back into the Sre Ambel River. “This turtle will be released into wild only if it is properly cured,” Heng Sovannara said. “In the old days, Cambodians dared not eat this turtle because it belongs to the royal family. When they found its eggs they always offered it to the King for food. That is why we call it the royal turtle,” he said.

New Bird Species Discovered in Unlikely Place: Phnom Penh

In June 2013, Mongabay and The Guardian reported: “A previously unknown species of bird has been found hiding in plain sight after scientists photographed what was thought to be more abundant species at a construction site on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capitol and largest city. Subsequent analysis revealed the species to be distinct. Known as the Cambodian tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk), the new bird is one of only two species endemic to Cambodia, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the group whose researcher Ashish John snapped the first pictures of the bird. [Source: Mongabay, The Guardian, June 26, 2013]

"The modern discovery of an undescribed bird species within the limits of a large populous city — not to mention 30 minutes from my home — is extraordinary," said Simon Mahood, a WCS scientist who described the species — together with researchers from WCS, BirdLife International, the University of Kansas, Louisiana State University, and the Sam Veasna Centre — in a special online early-view issue of the Oriental Bird Club's journal Forktail. "The discovery indicates that new species of birds may still be found in familiar and unexpected locations."

Despite living on the edge of an urban area, the Cambodian tailorbird escaped detection due to its dense scrub habitat. The authors say the species is under threat due to declining habitat from agricultural and urban expansion. They recommend classifying it as "Near Threatened" under the IUCN's Red List. "Most newly discovered bird species in recent years have proved to be threatened with extinction or of conservation concern, highlighting the crisis facing the planet's biodiversity," said co-author Jonathan C. Eames of BirdLife International in a statement.

Killed by Angry Hornets and a Jumping Fish in Cambodia

In July 2001. Reuters reported: “An angry swarm of hornets killed a four-year-old Cambodian girl and her grandmother and injured four other family members after their nest was dislodged from a nearby tree in heavy rain, a newspaper said. Thousands of hornets entered the family's home in northwestern Kompong Speu province and attacked the girl, who was asleep in a hammock, the Khmer-language Koh Santepheap reported. The grandmother was attacked when she tried to rescue the girl, it said. The two died in hospital, while four other family members were treated and released, the newspaper said. [Source: Reuters, July 3, 2001]

In August 2002, Reuters reported: A Cambodian teenager has died of suffocation after a fish he caught jumped out of his hands and lodged in his throat, newspapers reported. Lim Vanthan, 17, and his family were planting rice at the weekend near their home on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, when they decided to go for a swim.During his dip, Lim Vanthan caught a prized 20 cm (8 inch) fish, called kantrob in Cambodian, with his hands. But the high school student's excitement was short-lived when his catch squirmed out of his hands and jumped into his mouth, where it became stuck because of barbs running down its back. He died of suffocation before he could receive treatment at a local clinic, the newspapers said. "This is an accident, but it shows we must all be careful," concluded the Khmer-language Rasmei Kampuchea (Light of Cambodia) newspaper. "Accidents can happen at any time." [Source: Reuters, August 19, 2002]

Khting Vor

The khting vor is a creature that is said to roam the remote mountains of Cambodia. It has been described as a snake-eating beast with a head like a cow and a body like an antelope. Some say it can roar like a lion and leap like a mountain goat. The only evidence of its existence are pairs of unusual horns with candy-cane-like ridges and curlicue ends. These horns have been found in villages over a wide geographical area in Cambodia.

In the late 1990s, areas where the khting vor reportedly lives opened up to outsiders and scientists began searching there for the beast. After three years they found nothing, and evidence began to emerge that the animal was a hoax. DNA analysis and other tests indicate the horns are cow horns that have been carved, heated, twisted and polished.

About 70 khting vor horns are known to exist. They are nearly all identical to one another and are prized for their medical qualities, particularly treating snake bites. Those who believe the animals exist claim that khting vir have interbred with domestic cows which explains why cow DNA shows up. Some scientists theorize the animals may have existed at one time and were hunted to extinction to get their valuable horns and after they became extinct forgers developed sophisticated techniques to copy the horns.

Tigers in Cambodia

There are an estimated 100 to 700 tigers left in Cambodia. Their long term chances of survival are regarded as dubious at best. Two thirds of the remaining forests, where tigers live, have been sold to timber concessions. By some counts two or three tigers a month are killed by mines and poachers. One hunter interviewed in northeast Cambodia said that he had personally shot 30 tigers.

Poachers in northeast Cambodia sometimes use explosives to kill tigers. They catch a pig or a game animal and tie to explosives to it. When a tiger takes the bait it detonates the explosives. Some poachers hang a monkey from a tree on top of a mine. When the tiger leaps to get the monkey it sets off the mine when it lands. The mines tend to blowout the tigers under belly leaving most of the skin and fur intact and able to fetch a good price. The bones are often the most valuable tiger parts.

Tiger pelts are sold for between $500 and $600 and bones ate sold for about $200 a kilogram. One Cambodian shopkeeper told Reuters, "If you want one or two skins you can have them immediately, but if you want four or five you'll have to wait." Sometimes tigers get their revenge. In 1993, three soldiers were horribly mutilated when they tried to kill a tiger.

Elephants in Cambodia

Elephants may still be used in the lumber industry in Cambodia. Health officials have used elephants outfit with loudspeakers to announce polio vaccination campaigns. The royal families in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia used to keep white elephants but the custom has largely died out there along with the royal families.

Cambodia has a long history of peaceful coexistence between people and elephants. Its most famous building, the spectacular Angkor Wat temple, was built out of stone and marble with the help of elephants in the 12th and 13th centuries. Elephants, then abundant in Southeast Asia, served as the critical heavy machinery, carrying building materials and providing the necessary force to hoist pulleys and move stone. Long revered in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, elephants continue to hold deep meaning for followers of those religions today. In Khmer history following the Angkor period, several kings believed that possessing rare white elephants could bring glory for the country. However, despite their cultural significance, after a period of unregulated development, Cambodia’s wild elephant population has dwindled significantly. [Source: Goldman Environmental Prize]

In 2010 Tuy Sereivathana won the 2010 Goldman Environmental Prize for his work in Cambodia with elephants. Tuy Sereivathana introduced innovative low-cost solutions to mitigate human-elephant conflict in Cambodia, empowering local communities to cooperatively participate in endangered Asian elephant conservation.

Migration routes of endangered Asian elephants have been disturbed by development, leading to conflicts between local communities and elephants. With their habitat decreasing, elephants are destroying farms as they look for food on the edges of the forests. Many rural farmers have been forced to relocate as a result of development in other parts of the country, tilling small tracts of land on the forests’ edges to feed their families. Desperate farmers have, in the past, killed elephants to protect their crops. These migrant farmers have no experience living in wildlife areas and no bond with the forests or the elephants. They are extremely poor, have little education and no political power to resolve land and livelihood conflicts.

As a ranger with Cambodia’s national parks, Tuy worked throughout the country, connecting with rural communities and learning more about elephant migration and ecosystems. In Prey Proseth and Trang Troyeng, two communities not far from Tuy’s ancestral home where 30,000 people live on the forest’s edge, he became aware of the lack of capacity within these communities to manage the human-elephant conflict they faced. In response, Tuy began developing his community-based model, spending time with the farmers in their fields and building their trust. He taught villagers how to use hot chilies, native plants, fences, fireworks and fog horns to ward off elephants. He demonstrated the benefits of crop rotation and diversification. Tuy encouraged farmers to alternate rapidly-growing crops such as cucumbers, which can be harvested several times a year before the elephants discover they are ripe. With this type of system, only one of many annual harvests would be damaged in the event of an elephant raid into a farmer’s field. More importantly, he fostered cooperation among the farmers to work together as a community, encouraging them to organize overnight guard groups to protect the fields. Tuy was also able to revive in the communities the national and religious pride attached to the Asian elephant, as many Cambodians revere elephants as sacred Buddhist symbols. Because Tuy understood the dynamics of this environmental problem, he was able to develop simple, effective strategies and practical solutions at the grassroots level.

During this time, Tuy, affectionately known as “Uncle Elephant” in the communities he works with, left his position as a National Parks officer under the Cambodian Ministry of Environment in 2003 to assume the role of Human Elephant Conflict Team Leader for the Cambodian Elephant Conservation Group, a project co-sponsored by Fauna & Flora International, the Cambodian government and community organizations. Tuy later became full-time manager of the project in 2006. In 2008, Tuy helped set up schools and brought teachers to the isolated communities dealing with human-elephant conflict. He saw this as another opportunity to embed the elephant and wildlife conservation message into the community. With support from Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Los Angeles Zoo and International Elephant Foundation (IEF), Tuy was able to set up four schools. One day per week, these schools teach 250 children about the natural environment, elephants and other wildlife, and how to live in harmony with nature.

River Dolphins in Cambodia

Irrawaddy fresh water dolphins are found in the Mekong River in Laos and Cambodia, the Mahakam River in Kalimantan in Indonesia, the Yangtze in China. They were once found on the Chao Praya River, which flows through Bangkok, but haven’t been seen there in decades.

The Irrawaddy dolphins found in Cambodia live mainly in the Mekong River around Kratie and Stung Treng provinces. The number of these mammals is estimated to be between 40 and 60 and they are often seen travelling in small groups of 6 to 10 individuals. The females usually give birth to young once every two years most often during the months of June to August. The young dolphins are about 1 meter in length at birth and suckle milk. By adulthood the dolphins can attain a length of over 2.5 meters and weigh up to 180 kilograms. Their diet consists mainly of small fish, shellfish and snails. The dolphins can swim at speeds up to 40 kilometers per hour and stay submerged for periods between five and ten minutes.

The Dolphin Habitat in Kratie, Cambodia is situated at Kampee Village and Resort in the Sambok Commune. Besides being a wonderful tourist hub the Dolphin Habitat, also plays a significant role in the conservation of dolphins. The Irrawaddy Dolphins make their home on a beautiful stretch of the Mekong River near a small set of rapids. They make upward arches, breaking the surface of the water as they swim about the area. The dolphins are most active in the early morning hours (around 6 am) and the late afternoon and early evening hours. A local family hires out their small boat. A young man in the family takes you out on the river for a closer look. The charge is 3,500 riel per person.

The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) population inhabits a 190 kilometers stretch of the Mekong River between Cambodia and Laos. The latest population is estimated between 64 and 76 members (2008 figures). The Irrawaddy dolphin is identified by a bulging forehead, a short beak, and 12-19 teeth on each side of each jaw. The pectoral fin is broadly triangular. There is a small dorsal fin, on the posterior end of the back.

In January 2005, four fishermen were arrested in Cambodia after they allegedly killed a rare Irrawaddy dolphin by tossing an explosive device into a river in northeastern Mondulkiri province, officials said yesterday. The 86kg freshwater dolphin was found dead Saturday in the Srepok River after people exploded the device to catch fish, Sam Samat, secretary of the provincial police chief said. "We never knew that there were Irrawaddy dolphins in Srepok River. The fishermen also did not know this kind of animal was in the river," he said, adding that three men and a woman were arrested. Fishing with explosives is common in Cambodia. Fewer than 100 of the famous pink dolphins are left in Asia's Mekong River; once there were thousands. [Source: Agencies, January 28, 2005]

See Asian Animals

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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