Wildlife rangers in Cambodia have sighted 3 new Mekong River dolphin calves born during the spring breeding season this year.
Conservation group WWF, which funds research and protection of the rare dolphin in Cambodia, says the 3 new dolphin babies are a very healthy increase for the total population of just 80 Mekong dolphins.
And the WWF wildlife rangers also reported no signs of adult dolphin deaths during their spring survey of the remote pools in the Mekong where the dolphins live during the low-river season, which is often a perilous time.
The Mekong dolphins are a unique population of Irrawaddy dolphin, named for a river in Myanmar where the species is also threatened. Most Irrawaddy dolphins live near river estuaries and the sea. But the Mekong dolphins are far from the sea and most live their whole lives in the river. In Cambodia only 80 dolphins remain in a stretch of the Mekong River between Kratie province and the Laos border to the north. Another group of about 5 dolphins live in the Mekong below the Khone Falls in Laos.
WWF funds scientific research and protection programs for the Mekong dolphins from a base in Kratie. Protection efforts include encouraging local fishermen to reduce the use of set gill-nets, which can entangle dolphins attracted to the netted fish.
Fossil bones found by farmers digging a new pond in north-east Thailand have been identified as a new species of dinosaur – the ninth dinosaur species found in this part of Thailand and the sixth found nowhere else.
New-to-science Sirindhorna khoratensis was a plant-eating iguanodontid, about 6 metres long, which lived around 120 million years ago.
The new dinosaur takes it genus name from the daughter of Thailand’s King Bhumibol, Princess Sirindhorn, an enthusiastic patron of dinosaur research. Its species name comes from Khorat, the informal name for the city of Nakhon Ratchasima about 400 kilometres north-east of Bangkok.
The fossils were uncovered in 2005 on the outskirts of the city by farmers digging a small reservoir to water their crops of corn and tapioca.
They reported the find to scientists at Nakhon Ratchasima Rajabhat University (NRRU), but the location meant that the dig teams could only collect the fossils when there were no crops in the ground, for a few months each year between 2006 and 2012.
Although the fossils are fragmented, most of the skull and jawbone are complete and Sirindhorna is now one of the best-known iguanodon species in Asia, say the researchers from Japan’s Fukui Prefectural University and NRRU.
Iguanodon-like dinosaurs lived in the early Cretaceous Period between 145 million and 100 million years ago, when most of Southeast Asia was covered by jungles, swamps and shallow seas. They may have traveled in herds for protection against predators, like wild elephants today.
Masateru Shibata, a paleontologist at Fukui Prefectural University and the lead author of the research, told Kyodo News that iguanodons are thought to have colonised Asia from North America and Europe and the new find helped establish their range. Iguanodons from the early Cretaceous Period had also been found in Japan and the latest find from Thailand was “valuable as it shows iguanodons lived in a wide area of Asia,” he said.
Sirindhorna is the ninth new species of dinosaur identified from fossils found in Thailand, all in the north-east Isan region of farmland, mountains and forests that extends from Khorat to Thailand’s Mekong River border with Laos and Cambodia.
It is the second Thai dinosaur named after Princess Sirindhorn — Phuwiangosaurus sirindhornae, a 20-metre long suaropod, was named in her honour in 1994.
North-east Thailand has emerged as a rich source of dinosaur fossils and other archaeological discoveries since the 1970s, when the first fossilized bones were found by prospectors looking for uranium in the broken scarps of Phu Wiang district, 85 kilometres west of the city of Khon Kaen and now a national park.
In 1994, the lucky find of a dinosaur bone by a monk in Kalasin province led to the discovery of a “dinosaur’s graveyard” and five new species. The discovery site has been developed into a renowned dinosaur museum and paleontology institute. Footprints from tyrannosaurs and other species have been found at several sites.
Archaeologists have also discovered important remains of the human occupation of the Middle Mekong Basin, including elaborate pottery and metalwork from grave sites at Ban Chiang and Ban Non Wat in north-east Thailand — relics of Bronze-Age peoples who lived in the region between 3000 and 4000 years ago.
But they have warned that the region’s archaeological heritage is threatened by land development and looting that takes place before scientists can learn what’s there.
Dr Joyce White, an American archaeologist who worked on the Ban Chiang discoveries, said at a public lecture in Bangkok last year that the destruction of archaeological sites across the region would have a lasting impact on future prospects for tourism, education and the rural societies involved.
Dr White was an expert witness for the US Justice Department in a successful prosecution of a US museum that had purchased smuggled artifacts from Ban Chiang and other Thai archaeological sites. The artifacts were returned to Thailand in 2014.
The fate of 70 million people rests on what happens to the Mekong river. With world leaders meeting in Paris for crucial UN climate talks, John Vidal journeys down south-east Asia’s vast waterway – a place that encapsulates some of the dilemmas they must solve. He meets people struggling to deal with the impacts of climate change as well as the ecological havoc created by giant dams, deforestation, coastal erosion and fast-growing cities
John Vidal’s first stop along the river is the tiny country of Laos. Fifty years ago, Laos began to build a series of giant dams. It was the first chance the country had to generate the electricity and money needed to emerge from deep poverty. But is this demand for clean energy creating ecological and human havoc?
Pon is keen to tell me how lucky I am. “In the wet season, you cannot walk on this track,” he says. “But now, it is safe – we can go to the waterfall.”
This is the grand finale, the cherry-on-top reward at the end of a day’s trek. It’s a reward that feels greedy, however. The walk across the Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos begins with purposeful striding through the Arabica coffee plantations that mean relative prosperity for the local bean-growing co-operatives. This leads to the rocky, semi-barren landscape of the Dan Sin Say plateau, where cows mooch around with a flabby lack of menace, over stepping stones and down to the banana-fringed pool at the bottom of the Tad Cham Pi falls.
In a sweaty, sticky heat, this feels just about right. But we must press on. Tad Cham Pi is just a baby. If I want something truly impressive, then forging ahead to Tad Fane is imperative.
We get to the lookout; the twin falls daintily tumbling through the forest into a deep chasm are indeed impressive. But we can get closer.