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  Yahoo News 4 Oct 06
10 rare Irrawaddy dolphins born in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - At least 10 young Irrawaddy dolphins have been discovered in Cambodia, a government official has said, raising hopes the rare animal was being pulled back from the brink of extinction.

The calves, observed by fisheries officials, were most likely born between May and July in the Mekong river not far from the Lao border, said Touch Seang Tana, who chairs a government commission established to protect the dolphins.

The commission was set up earlier this year after at least 12 dolphins died in January and February, raising extinction fears.

Conservationists estimate that fewer than 100 Irrawaddy dolphins exist in the wild.

But Touch Seang Tana said that number could be around 130 and that he hoped there would be as many as 170 within the next five years.

He said since the beginning of the year, 66 guards had been posted along the river to protect the dolphins. Only two dolphins had been found dead since the commission was established, he said.

The government said the threats to the dolphins ranged from illegal fishing to habitat destruction.

Touch Seang Tana told AFP that starting next year, all fishing nets -- which are the primary cause of dolphin deaths -- will be banned along the stretch of Mekong from the central town of Kratie to the Lao-Cambodian border.

"We hope that, with these precautions, the dolphins will not become extinct," he said, adding that villagers have been educated about the value of the dolphins.

Thousands of the dolphins, which have blunt, round heads and are light, almost white in colour, once swam in the Mekong -- which flows from Tibet to the South China Sea and has tributaries in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

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