- Title: CHINA: A rare Chinese river dolphin is probably extinct, experts say.
- Date: 15th December 2006
- Summary: (L!3) BEIJING, CHINA (RECENT) (REUTERS) AUGUST PFLUGER, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF THE BAIJI. ORG FOUNDATION, TALKING TO JOURNALIST (SOUNDBITE) (English) AUGUST PFLUGER, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF THE BAIJI. ORG FOUNDATION, SAYING: "Unfortunately, the Baiji is functionally extinct, we guess. We didn't see any animals in the river. We did survey 3,500 kilometres between Yichang and Shanghai, and upstream. We haven't seen any Baiji. That does not mean that there are no Baijis left but at least we didn't see them. If there are, maybe one or two or three left in the river. We don't believe that they have any chance to survive."
- Embargoed: 30th December 2006 12:00
- Location: China
- Country: China
- Topics: Environment / Natural World
- Reuters ID: LVACBP11MTQGFLRDSZ9HNGR40G8Q
- Aspect Ratio:
- Story Text: A rare freshwater dolphin unique to China's Yangtze River is now almost certainly extinct, according to a Swiss conservationist who failed to spot a single animal on an expedition which ended on Wednesday (December 13).
The long-beaked, nearly blind baiji used to live along China's longest river, but a 26-day, 1,700-km (1,060-mile) hunt by Chinese and foreign experts failed to find any of the mammals.
Baiji is related to other freshwater species found in Asia's Mekong, Indus and Amazon rivers, all of them highly endangered or already extinct themselves. In the late 1970s, scientists believed there to be several hundred baiji still living in the river.
A 1997 survey confirmed just 13 baiji still around, while the last verified sighting was in 2004. The last baiji in captivity, Qi Qi, died in 2002.
"Unfortunately, the Baiji is functionally extinct, we guess. We didn't see any animals in the river. We did survey in 3,500 kilometres (of water) between Yichang and Shanghai, and upstream. We haven't seen any Baiji. That does not mean that there are no Baijis left but at least we didn't see them. If there are, maybe one or two or three left in the river. We don't believe that they have any chance to survive," August Pfluger, chief executive of the baiji.org Foundation, told Reuters in an interview this week.
The Chinese government had set up a breeding reserve in a lake in central Hubei province to look after captured baiji, but failed to find any dolphins in the wild. Development, overfishing and shipping are widely believed to be blamed for the disappearance of baiji.
Pfluger said the extinction of baiji could serve as an example of how better protect endangered fresh water species in the future.
"We have to rethink our fresh water strategies. We have to find a way towards a sustainable way to treat the Yangtze and, of course, the fresh water resources in general. I think we should take the loss of the Baiji as a warning signal to really go ahead with these issues," he said.
The baiji is a prehistoric-era dolphin traditionally thought by the Chinese to be a river god.
The six-week expedition, made up of two ships and 30 scientists from Japan, China, the United States and Switzerland, did come across some 300 of the Yangtze finless porpoise.
These species are also endangered and their numbers indicate they might be in trouble as well. The Hubei province's baiji sanctuary could not save the rare dolphins, but 28 finless porpoises are "doing well" and breeding which gives at least a chance of survival to one of the Yangtze River's inhabitants.
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