Witness to Extinction: How We Failed to Save the Yangtze River Dolphin
The tragic recognition of the extinction of the Yangtze River Dolphin or baiji in 2007 became a major news story and sent shockwaves around the world. It made a romantic story, for the baiji was a unique and beautiful creature that features in many Chinese legends and folk tales. The Goddess of the Yangtze, as it was known, was also the lone representative of an entire and ancient branch of the Tree of Life. But perhaps the greater tragedy is that its status as one of the world's most threatened mammals had been widely recognized, yet despite wide publicity virtually no international funds became available.
Samuel Turvey here tells the story of the plight of the Yangtze River Dolphin from his unique perspective as a conservation biologist deeply involved in the struggle to save the dolphin. This is both a celebration of a beautiful and remarkable animal that once graced one of China's greatest rivers, its natural history and its role as a cultural symbol; and also a personal, eyewitness account of the failures of policy and the struggle to get funds that led to its tragic demise. It is a true cautionary tale that we must learn from, for there are countless other threatened species that will suffer from the same human mistakes, and whose loss we shall not know until it is too late.
Wetlands of International Importance, an international conservation convention that aims to protect the world’s key wetland sites. If the baiji recovery programme was going to involve intensive ex situ conservation, this was potentially the perfect habitat for establishing a closely managed dolphin population. However, the real environmental situation at Tian’e-Zhou was not necessarily as rosy as it had been painted. Furthermore, the decision over which of the various suggested recovery
personal fortune on saving the baiji, then why was he messing around like this, and jeopardizing the success of the recovery programme with unnecessary delays? All of a sudden, something about the baiji.org Foundation didn’t quite make sense. It was time to get in touch and ﬁnd out what was going on. Randy told me that the international project manager of the foundation, a woman called Leigh Barrett, was also based in the UK. She seemed like the most obvious person to contact to begin with. I
sanctuary in spite of all the organising and proposing that apparently went on to that end.’ Little appears to have been learnt from this conservation failure, even within New Zealand. Only a few decades later, another avoidable tragedy struck the country’s native bird fauna. Although the last individuals of many endemic bird species were by now restricted to tiny offshore islands, these islands didn’t necessarily represent safe havens either. In the early 1960s, rats that had stowed away on
protection of whales, dolphins and their environment’. Dear Director, it read, I am writing on behalf of WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, to inform you that we are disappointed to learn yet again of proposed attempts to locate and capture highly endangered Yangtze River dolphins (baiji) in China for proposed relocation to an oxbow lake for breeding purposes. We are equally disappointed to learn of the Zoological Society of London’s involvement in these plans and their proposed
enough to support anything like a viable population of dolphins that might have remained undetected, especially since the countercurrent eddies where the side-channel meets the river, which represent the region of most suitable baiji habitat in all of these channels, lie within the area covered by our survey efforts. Similarly, all of the main tributaries are now dammed within a few miles of the main channel, and so could contain at most so long, and thanks for all the fishing 187 one or two