As regular readers will know, Moo and I are off to Macau in a couple of weeks, I may have mentioned it in passing, once or twice…., and in my infinite wisdom I offered to prepare a little project for her school so her friends could learn a little about where she was going. I allowed the guilt of her missing a couple of weeks of school to consume me one day and quite clearly took leave of my senses without fully understanding the implications of my suggestion. Maitress Marion welcomed this with open arms and I set about my task. Well actually I ignored my task almost entirely until I suddenly realised I have till the end of this week to hand the project in to Maitress, fully written up and translated into French with some Chinese characters and a guide to Cantonese pronunciation thrown in, for her suggestions and, hopefully, approval. I am thinking that perhaps I should have made a start a little sooner.
It was the same when I was at school, and there was many a homework page handed in ever so slightly damp with the milk from my morning cornflakes.
Whilst doing a little research for the ‘animals’ section, I stumbled across many interesting facts.
The first of which being that there are no indigenous species from the island of Macau.
I very quickly widened the scope of the project to include the animals of China and was richly rewarded.
I am happy to report that due to conservation efforts there are now somewhere close to 3000 giant panda’s in the wild and there is talk of their ‘Endangered’ status being downgraded to ‘Vulnerable’ in the near future. Whatever will the World Wildlife Fund use for a logo now? Perhaps they could consider the South China Tiger as there are as few as 20 left in the wild today. Sobering statistics for the majestic beast. It is profoundly sad that it is already too late for them to consider the Yangtze River dolphin. I stumbled across this distressing tale when looking for a ‘wet’ animal to use in the project. It hadn’t occurred to me to look for dolphins, and certainly not to look for them inhabiting a river.
The Yangtze is however no ordinary river.
At 6,300 km (3,900 miles) is the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world. It flows from its source in Qinghai Province, eastwards into the East China Sea at Shanghai and acts as a dividing line between North and South China. The river is one of the world’s busiest waterways and by 2005 Cargo transportation reached 795 million tons a year. It boasts 3 dams, one of which, The Three Gorges Dam, is the largest hydro-electric power station in the world. The ever increasing shipping and construction have rendered vast stretches of the Yangtze heavily polluted and have changed the ecology of the river forever.
It is home to many creatures including the finless porpoise, the Chinese paddlefish, and the Chinese alligator, which is the only species of alligator that is not native to the United States. The first animal is on the ‘vulnerable’ list and the following are on the ‘endangered’ list. Which should tell you a lot about the erosion of natural habitat and overzealous fishing methods on the river.
However I will admit to being a big softie and getting a real lump in my throat when I read about the Baiji.
It is sometimes known as the “goddess of the Yangtze” or the “white princess”. The first recorded sightings of these beautiful creatures were documented as far back as the 3rd century BC, and as recently as the late1950’s the population was said to be stable around the 6000 mark. The dolphins could live up to 24 years in the wild and grew to an average length of 2.4 meters. At their top speed they have been clocked at an impressive 65 km per hour, but due to their poor hearing and eyesight they would normally swim at a more sedate 15-20 kmph. As the industrialization of the river began to grow so the population declined, but this decline was far more rapid than anyone could have predicted, and during a conservation survey in 1986 there was estimated to be only 300 surviving dolphins in the whole river. Whilst efforts were made to halt this decline it proved to be too little too late. A subsequent survey in 2006 made no sightings at the beautiful Baiji was declared by the International Conservation Union, (ICU), to be ‘functionally extinct’ (which means fewer are likely to be alive than are needed to propagate the species).
In 2007 video footage was shot that appears to show a single Baiji, but dolphin experts have concluded that it was extremely old and frail and this does not alter the animals conservation status.
So in just 60 years an entire species has been erased from the planet and the blame lies squarely at the feet of the human race. The ICU have stated that the causes of extinction are due to the increased traffic, and therefore pollution, on the river, the barbaric and outlawed, although still widely practiced, method of ‘electric fishing’, and the erosion of the natural habitat caused by construction on and around the river. Whilst steps are being taken to reverse some of the damage that has been caused to try and safeguard the habitat for the remaining endangers species in the river, it is far, far too late for the Baiji.
I have no answers to the global problems of conservation and pollution, but I will continue in my small ways to be as environmentally friendly as I can, and hopefully when the children hear a, highly edited, version of this tale it will have some impact on the way they view the world around them and how they treat their fellow creatures.