Untold impact on northern Thailand’s wildlife from Mekong dams

The Third Pole

About a year ago, the Boon Rueang Wetland Forest Conservation Group began a survey of wildlife in the 483-hectare community forest in northern Thailand. “We have recorded some leopards, otters and other animals,” says Songpol Chanruang, chair of the group.

Though only around 130 kilometres long, the Ing River that feeds the Boon Rueang wetlands is the second most important habitat for the Eurasian otter in Thailand, according to the Living River Association, an NGO that promotes community-based conservation in the Mekong basin. The Eurasian otter – a species listed as globally Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature – is known to occur at at least 10 locations along the banks of the Lower Ing River.

The Ing River is a tributary of the Mekong. The stretch where the Ing and other tributaries like it in northern Thailand flow into the Mekong is sandwiched between a huge number of dams. There are 11 hydropower dams upstream on China’s section of the Upper Mekong – known as the Lancang – and 11 more in various stages of planning and completion on the Lower Mekong in Laos and Cambodia, most with some level of Chinese involvement in development or construction. The effects of upstream dams on the ecology of downstream tributaries are largely unknown.

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