The Irrawaddy dolphin is a sacred animal in Cambodia and an important source of jobs and eco-tourism dollars, but it could soon be extinct in the Mekong. Although Srey Sokkea and his fellow river guards are doing everything they can to save it.

The critically endangered dolphins are an important part of Cambodia’s natural heritage and a major tourist attraction. About 20,000 national and international tourists visit the Mekong each year to catch a glimpse of these rare animals, providing incomes and jobs for numerous communities along the river.

But for how much longer? There are only 85 Irrawaddy dolphins left in the country, dispersed along a 190 km stretch of the Mekong between Kratie and the border with Laos PDR. And they face numerous threats, including becoming entangled in illegal fishing nets.

To give the remaining dolphins a chance, WWF has been working with the authorities to encourage alternative livelihoods for local communities, and to monitor the dolphin population. WWF has also been collaborating with Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration to support the work of 67 river guards stationed at 16 posts along the Mekong by providing them with training and equipment.

Srey Sokkea is one of the guards. After nearly 10 years in the army and police, he switched to farming before joining the government’s dolphin enforcement unit in 2011. Today, he leads a team of five river guards in the Sambo district.

And they are having a major impact. In 2014 alone, Sokkea and his dedicated team confiscated 770 illegal gillnets with a total length of 40 km as well as 25 long lines with a combined length of 7 km. They also impounded four boats equipped with electroshock fishing gear, and arrested seven poachers who are now in jail.

Sokkea and his colleagues cannot stop all illegal fishing, but they are helping to rein it in and to give the Irrawaddy dolphin some much needed breathing space in the Mekong.

Check out this video to learn more about river rangers' work in Cambodia.