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The Mekong

[ 21 ] May 25, 2013 |

The decline of wildlife along the Mekong River, and really in all of Southeast Asia, has reached crisis levels. Between widespread development and the Chinese desire to kill every mammal in existence, there isn’t much left. On the Mekong, home of many now rare and amazing species, we are at crunch time in what is probably a losing battle. Among the fundamental problems when it comes to aquatic life is that you have to convince fishermen that not killing as many animals as possible is worth their effort. The only way to do that is cash because for poor people, every fish, every deer, every thing period, counts toward feeding their families. Of course, paying off large segments of a population has never been tried and probably would not work anyway, but without state intervention or convincing people to not kill the last of these animals, the Mekong ecosystem will be pretty well denuded of animal life.

Comments (21)

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  1. Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore says:

    Can I take any credit for this achievement? I love the smell of burning mammal flesh in the morning… smells like…

  2. Aaron says:

    When I was in that region of the world (SE Asia, not just the Mekong region), now more than a decade ago, it was striking – in the north of Thailand, anything that flew lower than a hornbill was likely to find itself in a cooking pot. The more interesting wildlife tended to be in cages or aquariums, soon to be food or ‘medicine’. I understand that the Cambodian government has since made an effort to move the obvious signs of poverty off of the main road into Angkor Wat, but it’s anything but a surprise that the people in the are of Tonle Sap are going to overfish the lake (if they have the means), and that overfishing would continue right on down the river.

    • PhoenixRising says:

      The CPP thinks the problem is tourists complaining about the beggar children.

      Not the beggar children, or their parents’ lousy alternatives, or the eradication of unique species like the Irrawady dolphin.

      So that’s where the solution ‘let’s try giving money to the people eating the endangered ______’ might be worth a try. It’s not like national dignity is at stake in Cambodia–barangs handing poor Khmer people cash to incentivize the behaviors more desired by Westerners is a well understood mechanism.

      I’m not familiar with local culture in the Lao PDR, so maybe someone who is can speak to the question, Would throwing money at the problem, where “problem”=overfishing and no hunting limits, be considered insulting or the purview of government up the river?

      If not, this is a GREAT place to try paying locals to not kill everything that is made out of protein.

      If it works, maybe we can pay to NOT cut down rosewood…etc.

  3. anthrofred says:

    It’s nice to see this framed in economic terms. Sure didn’t take long before the NYT comments devolved into Malthusian grousing about overpopulation, unfortunately.

    • jim, some guy in iowa says:

      isn’t that part of the big picture, though?

      • Karen says:

        True, but since the people are actually already here, we’d best work with that fact. Introducing a plague is a horror plot, not a policy option. We have to make sure that the people have an option for material security beyond slaughtering everything that moves.

      • LeeEsq says:

        Yes but as Karen pointed out the people are already there and attempts to introduce family planning in the area haven’t helped much anyway, see China as an example.

      • anthrofred says:

        The general sentiment of most “it’s overpopulation’s fault!” arguments is that Something Must Be Done about population itself, with the undertone that the global south’s poor are just plain having too many kids and that family planning is the right solution. Aside from being a profoundly colonial sentiment, it also takes a symptom as a cause: improving economic conditions does stabilize population growth.

        While I have a problem with the telos of most development models, it’s statistically well established that lowering infant mortality and increasing educational opportunities (especially for girls) has a marked effect on birth rates. Exploitation and inequality are drivers of population growth, and solutions will come from attention to these problems, not from whinging about how people need to stop having kids.

        • jim, some guy in iowa says:

          good points. to change the subject just a tad, let me go on the record as saying i absolutely loathe the word “whinging”

          carry on

          • anthrofred says:

            It’s very British. I don’t know how it slipped into my Midwestern vocabulary.

            • cpinva says:

              “It’s very British.”

              british for what? the correct word is “whining”. sounds to me like some tabloid just misspelled it, and their idiot readers never figured it out.

              • Djur says:

                It’s a British mispronunciation of ‘whining’, probably due to misaligned teeth.

              • anthrofred says:

                The “correct word”? “Whinge” has been around since the 12th century. I’ll grant that it sounds a bit stuck-up (though I swear, words like this just pop into my brain as I write) but there’s nothing “incorrect” about it. Prescriptivists! Everywhere prescriptivists!

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  It doesn’t sound stuck up where I am. The locals use it almost exclusively over “whining”.

                  “Just having a bit of a whinge.” is exceedingly common.

                  I’m always in favor of more ways to describe complaining. We just don’t have enough vocabulary, I find.

                • Uncle Kvetch says:

                  I’m always in favor of more ways to describe complaining. We just don’t have enough vocabulary, I find.

                  I’m doing what I can, BP.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  You are a scholar and activist, Sir Kvetch!

                • Barry Freed says:

                  I’m doing what I can, BP.

                  +1 as these pesky kids say these days. And I see what you did there too.

  4. blowback says:

    Perhaps someone should try to introduce the passenger pigeon into SE Asia as it’s a good source of cheap protein.

  5. Djur says:

    the Chinese desire to kill every mammal in existence

    Jesus, Loomis. Been talking to Morrissey lately?

  6. Belle Waring says:

    The problem with the overpopulation complaints is that it’s always “those people” who are having more children than the earth can sustain. You never hear people turning around to say, “and that’s why I favor a strong national policy aimed at radically reducing America’s birth rate, and also sending decent amounts of aid money to Cambodia so that all Cambodian children have food security and access to well-run, free schools. And let’s make it a priority to help India reduce its truly terrible rate of malnutrition in children, as long as we’re out and about, doing stuff.” Well, you don’t even really hear the last part so much, but it would be nice too. People who aren’t at the brink of starvation don’t need to kill everything that moves to get by. Educated women have fewer children. It’s right to be miserable about the dolphins, and feel guilty about handing your children a much shittier world than the one you got, but trying to fix it exclusively from the dolphin end of things is kind of the wrong way around. (not to say there aren’t probably some relatively easy technological fixes that should be pushed for.)

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