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Press Relases December 4, 2004

International Scientists Join with Chinese Government to Save Remaining Yangtze River Dolphins

Budweiser Wuhan International Brewing, Baiji.Org, and Conservation International Sponsor Conservation Workshop

Wuhan, China; - A broad coalition of government officials, scientific experts and other supporters met in Wuhan, China to develop an action plan to save China’s critically endangered river dolphin, the Baiji (Lipotes vexillifer), from extinction. The total population in the Yangtze River is estimated to be less than 100.

During the five-day workshop, participants discussed and analyzed a variety of issues pertaining to the survival of the Baiji as well as the critically endangered Yangtze Finless Porpoise including:

  • The current status of the population, based on best available data,
  • Necessary actions to secure the remaining Baiji population,
  • Best practices for a rescue operation, including capture, transport, health care and management of any Baiji collected,
  • Steps necessary to establish a self-sustaining breeding population of Baiji at the Shishou Reserve and/or the Wuhan dolphinarium, and
  • Necessary modifications to improve the security and quality of the Shishou Reserve as habitat.

During the five-day workshop, site visits were conducted to assess conditions at the Shishou Semi-Natural Reserve (a 17-kilometer long oxbow adjacent to the Yangtze River) and the Wuhan dolphinarium (a research facility currently housing finless porpoises).

“International experts agree that the Baiji will become extinct unless a more aggressive conservation strategy can be rapidly developed and implemented,” said Dr. Susie Ellis, vice president, Indonesia and Philippines, Conservation International. “The purpose of this workshop was to bring together some of the most experienced cetacean biologists in the world to develop a unified conservation strategy that can be implemented within the next one-to-five years.”

The workshop was hosted by the Wuhan Institute of Hydrobiology, a part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, along with Conservation International and the Swiss-based Baiji.Org Foundation. Budweiser Wuhan International Brewing Co. Ltd., through a donation from Budweiser’s corporate parent, Anheuser-Busch and the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, sponsored the meeting. Baiji.Org, a philanthropic foundation, provided additional funding.

“Anheuser-Busch has been committed to conservation and protecting the environment for more than a century,” said Dr. Jim McBain, corporate veterinarian for Busch Entertainment Corp. “We are pleased to be able to supply both money and scientific expertise for this workshop to help the Baiji dolphin, our aquatic neighbors here in Wuhan.” The company’s Busch Gardens and SeaWorld Adventure Parks in the U.S. are curators of the largest animal collections in the world and have become leaders in caring for endangered and threatened species.

Because of the precarious situation facing Baiji in nature, and the uncertainties of the effects of the Three Gorges Dam on the species, the specialists attending the meeting had to seriously consider the role of an ex situ approach (removing animals from the wild for protection and study outside nature) as a method of conservation. Following recommendations from previous work with river dolphins, China already has captured and maintained finless porpoises in the Shishou Reserve. The survival and reproduction of the finless porpoises in this oxbow provides hope that Baiji, with appropriate management, also might survive and reproduce in such an environment.

A survey of the Yangtze River from Yichang to Shanghai, to be organized by the Institute of Hydrobiology and Baiji.Org Foundation in early 2005, is expected to provide a basis for better-informed decisions on where and how to carry out capture attempts.

Listed on The World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Red List as critically endangered, the Baiji is the world’s most endangered cetacean species. The population is thought to have halved in the last 10 years. The Baiji is threatened by the degradation of the Yangtze River ecosystem, harmful fishing techniques, and a subsequent decline in the population of eels on which they feed. Other human activities, such as shipping, development and pollution also have contributed to the population decline.

Extinction of the Baiji would mean not only the loss of a species, but of an entire family of mammals (Lipotidae). The critical status of the Baiji, and the deteriorating status of the finless porpoise, signify that one of our planet’s great aquatic ecosystems, the Yangtze river basin, is in immediate peril due to the nearby presence of about 10 percent of the Earth’s human population.

In addition to Dr. Ellis and Dr. McBain, key participants in the workshop included: Dr. Wang Ding of the Institute of Hydrobiology, Dr. Randall Reeves, chairman of the Cetacean Specialist Group of the IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) and co-chairman of the workshop, Dr. Randy Wells (Chicago Zoological Society), Dr. Bernd Würsig (Texas A&M University), Dr. Nick Gales (Australian Antarctic Division), Sun Shan, Conservation International-China, and August Pfluger of the Baiji.Org Foundation.

Julian Teixeira
[email protected]

Conservation International’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business (CELB) provides a new forum for collaboration between the private sector and the environmental community. Created in partnership with Conservation International (CI) and the Ford Motor Company, CELB operates as a division of CI and is governed by a distinct executive board of leaders from the business and environmental communities-engaging the private sector worldwide in creating solutions to critical global environmental problems in which industry plays a defining role. For further information about CELB, please visit


Katrin Olson
[email protected]

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