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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Extinction Warning: only 85 endangerred Irrawaddy dolphins on the Mekong

By Amy Lou Jenkins

Today the World Wildlife Fund revealed that its research has confirmed that the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphin population in the Mekong River numbers just 85. Complicating these dismal numbers was the finding that calf survival was found to be very low, leading researchers to conclude that the small population is declining and at high risk of extinction.

With the steep decline in populations of many animal species, from frogs,fish and dolphins to tigers, some scientists have warned that Earth is on the brink of a mass extinction like those that occurred only five times before during the past 540 million years.

Anthony D. Barnosky, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology, a curator in the Museum of Paleontology and a research paleontologist in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, reported in the 2011 Science Daily:

"If currently threatened species -- those officially classed as critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable -- actually went extinct, and that rate of extinction continued, the sixth mass extinction could arrive within as little as 3 to 22 centuries. Nevertheless, it's not too late to save these critically endangered mammals and other such species and stop short of the tipping point. That would require dealing with a perfect storm of threats, including habitat fragmentation, invasive species, disease and global warming."

Each extinction accerates the threat of extinction to other species. Humans are a species.The WWF and scientist recognize human impact, development/ and climate change as a caustivative factors in the accerated extinction rates. Humans can also act to prevent mass extinctions, and the WWF is today calling for world wide effort on behalf of the Irrawaddy.

According to Dr. Li Lifeng, Director of WWF’s Freshwater Programme, the research is based on photographic identification of dolphins through individually unique features of their dorsal fins. “Most of the dolphins can be identified, and we use that information to estimate the population size.”Although this population estimate is slightly higher than the previous estimate, the researchers were quick to note that the population had not increased over the last few years.

“With a larger dataset and recent analytical advances, previously unidentifiable dolphins which had few marks on their dorsal fins have been included,” Dr. Li said. However, surveys conducted from 2007 to 2010 show the population slowly declining.

“Evidence is strong that very few young animals survive to adulthood, as older dolphins die off and are not replaced,” Dr. Li explained.The population is ranked as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, the highest international threat ranking for endangered species, and Irrawaddy dolphins are fully protected under the highest level of Fishery Law in Cambodia and Lao PDR. Dolphins in the Mekong continue to be threatened by gill net entanglement and the causes of calf mortality remain unclear.

“This tiny population is at high risk by its small size alone. With the added pressures of gill net entanglement and high calf mortality we are really worried for the future of dolphins,” Dr. Li said. The research (research reports available for download) also indicates that the small population resident in the transboundary pool on the Cambodia – Lao PDR border may number as few as 7-8 individuals. This is the only area in Lao PDR where dolphins remain. WWF is working to coordinate transboundary management with government agencies and local communities in Cambodia and Lao PDR at this most critical dolphin site.

“Our best chance of saving this iconic species from extinction in the Mekong River is through joint conservation action,” said Dr. Li. “WWF is committed to working with the Fisheries Administration, the Dolphin Commission, and communities all along the river to reverse the decline and ensure the survival of this beautiful species in the Mekong.”WWF is asking the government of Cambodia to establish a clear legislative framework to protect dolphins in Cambodia. This should include the designation of dolphin conservation zones and should allow a ban or limit on the use of gillnets where needed. Doing so will require formalizing special legislation to protect dolphins or amendments to existing Fishery Law.
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Oil deal: Thaksin to visit Cambodia


Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra will visit Cambodia late this week to meet with leaders and investors in Phnom Penh, notably on an oil-and-gas concession in the Gulf of Thailand where claims overlap, a Pheu Thai Party source said yesterday.

Thaksin, who is expected to be in the country for two days from August 19 on Friday and Saturday, will take some foreign investors to meet and play golf with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Defence Minister Tea Banh to make the business deal, the source said.
Many Pheu Thai MPs are preparing to greet Thaksin while he is in Cambodia, the source said.

Thaksin will help negotiate with Cambodia on a plan for joint development of a petroleum venture in the Gulf of Thailand where both countries claim the rights. He wants state-run PTT to have a stake in the oil-and-gas concession or enter a joint venture with Cambodia, the source said.

Thaksin has asked Energy Minister Pichai Naripthaphan to cooperate with Cambodia on the energy deal, the source said.

Thaksin is always welcome in Cambodia, as he has personal connections with Hun Sen. He was an adviser to the prime minister and the Cambodian government but stepped down after the position provoked serious conflict with Thailand.

However, the maritime deal between Thailand and Cambodia is in limbo, as the former government under Abhisit Vejjajiva scrapped a 2001 memorandum of understanding signed with the neighbouring country. It remains unclear whether the pact has been terminated.

Thaksin began making high-profile visits to foreign countries shortly after his younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra took office as prime minister.

He is scheduled to visit Japan late this month under a plan facilitated by Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul. The private visit needed involvement from the Thai government as Japanese immigration law prohibited any foreigner sentenced to more than one year's imprisonment from entering the country. After the Thai government request, the Japanese Justice Ministry issued Thaksin a special entry visa, according to a Japanese official.

Yingluck said her government did not make the request to Japan but Surapong simply told Tokyo the current Thai government had no policy to block Thaksin's movements abroad.

"It's under consideration by the Japanese government; nobody could order [another] foreign government," she said.

Asked why the government had not asked for Thaksin's extradition from Japan, Yingluck said her government had no special policy concerning the former prime minister.
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Thailand to protect heritage


Since Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam are already members of the Unesco Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, Thailand would find it very useful if it also joined, because it could get to know others and learn without borders, a senior official said yesterday.

Next week, Thailand will consider entering 30 items, including fish sauce, the recipe for tom yam kung (spicy shrimp soup) and the carving of banana stalks, as part of the national intangible cultural heritage list for this year. If Thailand joined the convention it could easily propose more items to be added to the list.

Somchai Sianglai, permanent secretary at the Culture Ministry, said the minister, Sukumol Kunplome, provided details of a discussion with the Foreign Ministry to the Cabinet yesterday. In the meeting between the two ministries, it was decided that Cambodia registering its heritage did not affect Thailand's right to register its own cultural legacy. Next week the Culture Ministry will hold a meeting with the Foreign and Commerce ministries as well as members of the media to come up with initial guidelines.

Department of Cultural Promotion chief Apinan Poshyananda said that initially 30 items would be registered as national intangible treasures pending the committees' final decision.

The items include readings of the Sepa-Thai poem, carving of banana stalks, the Thai sport of kite flying, the greeting gesture known locally as wai, the Songkran festival, the recipe of tom yam kung and fish sauce.
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