Cambodia has appointed a commission to help save the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin, fearing that a unique natural treasure could become extinct, a senior official said Monday.
At least a dozen of the dolphins have died since the beginning of the year. According to the World Wildlife Fund, just an estimated 80 to 110 dolphins remain in Cambodia's Mekong River.
Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a decree appointing a dolphin conservation committee last Friday, said commission member Thong Khon, the deputy minister of tourism. The commission's task will be to save the dolphins and use them for tourism promotion.
Thong Khon noted that Cambodian dolphins die every year during fishing season from December to March, "but when they die in increasing numbers like this, we have to worry about the them."
"They are a national heritage, like the Angkor temples," he said, referring to the famous centuries-old archaeological site in northwestern Cambodia. "The government is committed to protecting them using all means.'
Last week, Phai Somany, a senior officer of the Fisheries Department's Cambodian Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project, warned that Cambodia's population of Irrawaddy dolphins could vanish within a decade unless strict enforcement is undertaken to protect them.
He said that since the beginning of this year 14 dolphins, mostly calves, have died in Cambodia's part of the Mekong River, which also runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Seng Teak, country director of the World Wildlife Fund, said Monday that only 12 have died and the higher count was a result of a misunderstanding.
He said that the estimated 80 to 110 remaining dolphins, classified by the WWF as "critically endangered," are living in about 11 pools in the Mekong, upstream of Phnom Penh in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces, reports the AP.
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