Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Mekong River Dolphin nears extinction

Sad news on the Guardian today. It seems that according to an NGO, Mekong River Dolphins are nearly extinct. I am not sure what to say. I remember that I once spent a sunny, happy morning in a small wooden boat about 8 years ago, scanning the lakes of southern Laos and shouting in delight at the sight of the grey-pink mammals playing on the surface, splashing their flippers in the tropical sun. They were rare then, but now we are told there are as few as 85 individuals left in the border area between Laos and Cambodia. Perhaps as worryingly very few young are being born, meaning that the species is pretty much on the way out.

I think it is worth thinking about these numbers for a second, because we have become so used to endangered species being counted in hundreds and thousands that we have forgotten how few that is. Species with a few tens of thousands are considered abundant. 85 dolphins – that’s the same number of individuals as two or three classes in a busy school. Similarly there are perhaps 20,000 lions in Africa. The same number as there are people in the small town I grew up in, spread across an entire continent. Even in the great wildebeest migrations a herd might have 250,000 animals. It seems vast beyond imagining, yet that is about the same as the Glastonbury Festival. I guess you can see where I am going.

Anyway, it looks as though I will probably never see a Mekong River Dolphin again. It is just one among many species, but the world already seems a bit more lonely and dark.

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