Last chance for world’s most endangered mammal

One of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL)’s key scientists, today unveils the plans for a crucial conservation project to save the world’s most endangered mammal, the Yangtze River dolphin. The dolphin, commonly known as the baiji, is the only living member of an entire family of aquatic mammals and is only distantly related to other dolphin species, but fewer than fifty individuals are believed to survive today. Writing in the journal Oryx, Dr Sam Turvey describes the measures that must now be undertaken if the world is to have any chance of saving this enchanting, but critically endangered animal.

The Yangtze River dolphin is only found in China’s Yangtze River system, and its numbers have plummeted over the past few decades as a result of severe habitat degradation, overfishing, collisions with boats, and construction of dams such as the Three Gorges Dam. As it is highly unlikely that conditions in the Yangtze will improve in the foreseeable future, plans have now been made to establish a closely monitored breeding population of dolphins in the Tian-e-Zhou National Baiji Reserve, a 21 km oxbow lake adjacent to the Yangtze in Hubei Province.

An Emergency Implementation Plan to initiate this crucial recovery programme has been developed by ZSL following a crisis meeting in San Diego attended by representatives from a range of Chinese and international organisations. The plan outlines how the few remaining dolphins can be captured and translocated to the Tian-e-Zhou National Baiji Reserve, and how a breeding population can be managed. This recovery programme will be managed by ZSL together with Chinese and international partners. ZSL is now seeking urgent funds to allow the dolphin recovery programme to be put into action. In this quarter’s Oryx, Dr Turvey, an expert in mammal extinction and conservation, describes these plans and calls for action. Dr Turvey stated “This really is the last chance that we have to save one of the world’s most evolutionarily distinct and unusual animals, which the Chinese government has described as a national treasure of the highest order. We have successfully developed an emergency recovery programme for the species, but it is essential that we now raise the funding necessary to implement the programme and act immediately. If we cannot do this, the baiji is certain to join the long and tragic list of species already driven to extinction by human activity. We have to act now if we want to save the species.”


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