A woman calling for protection of the Yangtze finless porpoise, also called river pig, visits Wuhan Chinese White Flag Dolphin Aquarium in Hubei, China.(ANN/China Daily)
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 fewyears, instead of the 10 years suggested by some experts, if we do not take further measuresto protect them," Xu said.
Xu established the Yangtze Finless Porpoise Conservation Society in January. He spends mostof his time with other society members patrolling Dongting Lake and sharing conservation ideaswith local government officials.
The finless porpoise, also called river pig, is found only in the middle and lower reaches of theYangtze 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 thepopulation is declining at an annual rate of more than 6 percent, said Wang Ding, formerdeputy 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 protectioneffort, authorized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Wang said.
"We have completed a new plan to protect the Yangtze finless porpoise, which has been putforward for public opinion and feedback. It is expected to be carried out in the second half ofthe year," Wang said.
Measures include building new reserves and banning fishing in the national Yangtze finlessporpoise 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 theirnatural habitat and driving them to extinction."
Overfishing depletes the Yangtze finless porpoises' food sources and is a major cause of thespecies' decline, Wang said.
"Fishing in the Yangtze River only accounts for a very small portion of the total freshwaterfishing production of China, so I think we can afford to impose a complete ban on fishing alongthe whole river," Wang said.
Under the new plan from the Ministry of Agriculture, fishing is to be banned year-round innational reserves for the Yangtze finless porpoise, and fishermen will be encouraged to quitfishing 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 theYangtze 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 notdare to quit fishing and find work on the land."