China / Society

Desperate bid to save Yangtze river pig

By Wang Xiaodong and Zhou Lihua in Wuhan (China Daily) Updated: 2012-08-23 08:04

Despite his tireless work over the past few years to help the Yangtze finless porpoise survive, Xu Yaping is still pessimistic about the fate of the endangered species.

"The number of river pigs is declining, and I'm afraid they may become extinct in the next few years, instead of the 10 years suggested by some experts, if we do not take further measures to protect them," Xu said.

Xu established the Yangtze Finless Porpoise Conservation Society in January. He spends most of his time with other society members patrolling Dongting Lake and sharing conservation ideas with local government officials.

Desperate bid to save Yangtze river pig

A woman calling for protection of the Yangtze finless porpoise, also called river pig, visits a finless porpoise in the Wuhan Chinese White Flag Dolphin Aquarium in the Hubei provincial capital. [Photo/China Daily]

The finless porpoise, also called river pig, is found only in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, and Poyang and Dongting lakes, the largest two freshwater lakes in China, which are linked to the Yangtze.

Although once common in the river, the porpoises now number only about 1,000, and the population is declining at an annual rate of more than 6 percent, said Wang Ding, former deputy director of the Institute of Hydrobiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Extinction of the finless porpoise may be avoided thanks to the latest government protection effort, authorized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Wang said.

"We have completed a new plan to protect the Yangtze finless porpoise, which has been put forward for public opinion and feedback. It is expected to be carried out in the second half of the year," Wang said.

Measures include building new reserves and banning fishing in the national Yangtze finless porpoise reserves throughout the year.

"We hope the declining trend will be reversed in 10 years," said Wang. "Pollution, overfishing, busy water traffic and construction of hydropower stations - all these are destroying their natural habitat and driving them to extinction."

Overfishing depletes the Yangtze finless porpoises' food sources and is a major cause of the species' decline, Wang said.

"Fishing in the Yangtze River only accounts for a very small portion of the total freshwater fishing production of China, so I think we can afford to impose a complete ban on fishing along the whole river," Wang said.

Under the new plan from the Ministry of Agriculture, fishing is to be banned year-round in national reserves for the Yangtze finless porpoise, and fishermen will be encouraged to quit fishing and turn to other ways to make a living.

"As far as I know, most fishermen want to quit fishing," said Fan Qingui, a member of the Yangtze Finless Porpoise Conservation Society based in Yueyang, Hunan province.

However, fishermen face many challenges when seeking a new life on land, said Xu.

"The biggest problem is that most fishermen along the Yangtze River are illiterate," he said. "They lack basic skills other than fishing and find it hard to accept new things. Many do not dare to quit fishing and find work on the land."

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Li Bo in Wuhan contributed to this story.

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