No more Yangtze river dolphin?

Can we really have lost forever the Yangtze river dolphin, otherwise known as the Baiji? The IUCN might be about to declare this freshwater cetacean EXTINCT but they aren’t telling the world until they have thought about the latest evidence.

But let’s face it – the odds aren’t good! Back in 2003 the IUCN’s report on cetaceans stated: “An intensive survey in November 1997 produced a total count of only 13 dolphins (Wang 2000). There may be no more than a few tens of Yangtze dolphins in existence today.

This year a Yangtze River study from the Zoogical Society of London reported that they surveyed the whole river and found none. (Their article here.) But globalised wildlife organisations and charities are split in their opinion about whether it really is extinct or not. Methods are being argued over, press statements made…

Could that be because they will be accused of being partly responsible for letting this unique animal – specialised during 20 million years along its own evolutionary line – disappear? Are they afraid to admit that basically they’ve let one slip? The media over the last 2 weeks have asked this question, and I think it’s fair criticism.

Just a few weeks ago we were treated to BBC’s series called ‘Save the Planet’ which was not at all about saving the planet! It was about saving animals from the brink of extinction. It was up to the highest BBC standards. Cast tastefully with celebrity figures and gorgeous animals. Even the Raft Spider in the east anglian fens got the star treatment! BUT WHERE WAS THE BAIJI..?

The IUCN Cetacean Group even have an action plan, WWF have been doing work on the Yangtze sponsored by HSBC bank, and I’m sure something must have been happening to save the Baiji. Right?

There are thousands of wildlife charities around the world, funds for big cats, money for elephants, bread for birds, and luga for belugas, but surely the Baiji takes the biscuit? Surely it deserves more attention? (Dare I write in the present tense?)

Perhaps pollution and development at the Yangtze River negated any chance of a timely Baiji population recovery. Of course the economic and industrial boom in China is driven by many nations around the world, and how many of them – how many of us – will ask any business on the other side of the planet how it affects its local rivers? Ironically, this week it’s World Water Week.

copyright © 2008 Jason P Ball


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