GPS units, solar panels, life jackets, radio communications equipment, water proof cameras and uniforms are amongst the latest tools provided to support the Dolphin Commission river guards, patrolmen working along the Mekong River to protect the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphin.
The equipment is set to boost efforts to safeguard the iconic dolphin species on a 190km stretch of the mainstream Mekong River between Kratie, Cambodia and Khone Falls on the border with Laos – areas known to be the dolphin’s habitat range.
Conservation of this iconic species is a central element of WWF’s work under the HSBC Water Programme in the Greater Mekong, which involves identifying the basin’s vulnerabilities and developing strategies to conserve the ecosystem while supporting economic development.
Spanning Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China, the basin contains some of the most biologically diverse habitats on our planet, accounts for up to 25 per cent of the global freshwater catch, and provides up to 80 per cent of all animal protein for people living there.
However, the lower Mekong River is under threat as countries strive towards economic development. Without careful management, meeting the energy needs for growth could have catastrophic consequences for the environment and local livelihoods.
In August 2012, Cambodian law banned gillnet fishing as a major threat to dolphin survival. 13 months later, WWF continues to enable river guards to carry out the necessary enforcement against such methods; work that is critical to save the creatures from extinction.
“The Mekong dolphins are central to ensuring not only a healthy river, but secure livelihoods and strong economies” said Connie Chiang, WWF-Greater Mekong Project Manager. “Many local people – such as tour boat operators and wood sculptors - depend on dolphin survival for their income and livelihoods, while tourists from all over the world travel here to get a glimpse of them in their natural habitat. The Mekong is the lifeblood of the region not only for its extraordinary biodiversity but also the potential energy it offers in hydropower. Under the HSBC Water Programme, WWF is ensuring that decisions made on how this is best harnessed are sustainable so that both people and nature can thrive.”
Alongside the equipment, WWF has provided a 4-day training course for the patrol units – covering enforcement techniques, first aid skills, the use of GPS for navigation and how to apply legislations related to dolphin protection. The course also teaches them to work safely in remote or challenging areas, as well as how to build teamwork skills and working relationships with local police and communities.
With at least 80 river guards having completed the course, the project continues to gain pace and is set to expand, delivering training to hundreds of rangers across numerous districts.