Resilient Animals – Why snakes are disappearing from Southeast Asia’s largest lake

Some vulnerable species of water snakes are disappearing due to overfishing in the world’s most biodiverse lake—the Tonle Sap, in Cambodia.

Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake is one of the most biodiverse bodies of water on Earth. Zeb Hogan, a biologist and National Geographic Explorer, is examining how fishing in Tonle Sap is affecting aquatic life.

Fish stocks in the lake have dramatically declined over recent decades. Large-scale commercial fishing is regulated by the government, although not effectively. Hundreds of thousands of fishermen operate on the lake. As large, valuable species such as giant catfish disappear from overfishing, fishermen target smaller species.

According to a study in 2000, around 7 million water snakes were collected from Tonle Sap each year. The population of water snakes, some of them vulnerable species, has been declining since the 1990s. The non-venomous snakes are used for food, leather, and traditional medicines. Water snakes are important to the life of the lake—they eat fish and frogs and provide food for birds. The effects of the declines of water snakes and other species aren’t yet known.

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