They called it the “Goddess of the Yangtze River” – a creature so rare that it is believed that it brings wealth and protection to local fishermen and all those lucky enough to discover it.
But poaching and human activity It led him to the brink of extinction he hadn’t seen in decades.
“The Peiji dolphin, or Yangtze river dolphin, was this unique and beautiful creature – there was absolutely nothing quite like it,” said Samuel Turvey, a British zoologist and conservationist who spent more than two decades in China trying to track down the animal.
“It has been around for tens of millions of years and has been in its own mammal family. There are other river dolphins in the world, but these dolphins were completely different, so they had nothing to do with anything else,” Turvy said. “Its demise was more than a tragedy for other species – it was a massive loss of river diversity in terms of how unique it was and it left huge holes in the ecosystem.”
Experts have expressed grave concern that rare local animal and plant species in the Yangtze may suffer a fate similar to that of the Baiji River dolphin as exacerbated climate change and harsh weather conditions damage Asia’s longest river.
The drought has already had a devastating effect on China’s most important river, which runs an estimated 6,300 kilometers (3,900 mi) from the Tibetan Plateau to the East China Sea near Shanghai, providing water, food, and transportation and communications. hydroelectronic energy for more than 400 million people.
The human impact was enormous. Factories closed conserve electricity Water supplies for tens of thousands of people have been affected.
Experts say that the environmental impact that climate change and accompanying extreme weather events have had on hundreds of protected and threatened species of wildlife and plants living in and around the river is understated.
“The Yangtze River is one of the world’s most ecologically important rivers for biodiversity and freshwater ecosystems—and we continue to discover new species annually,” said conservation ecologist Hua Fangyuan, assistant professor from Peking University.
“Many (known) and unknown small fish and other aquatic species are probably facing the threat of extinction silently and we simply don’t know enough.
Over the years, conservationists and scientists have identified and documented hundreds of species of wild animals and plants indigenous to the Yangtze River.
Among them are the pigs of the Yangtze River, which look like baiji, Facing extinction due to human activity and habitat loss, endangered reptiles such as the Chinese alligator and the Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle – believed to be the largest living species of freshwater turtles in the world.
Experts have also noted a sharp decline in many species of local freshwater fish, such as the now-extinct Chinese sturgeon.
The most endangered is the Chinese giant salamander, one of the largest amphibians in the world. Wild populations have been shattered, zoologist Torvi said, and the species is “now on the verge of extinction.”
“Despite being a protected species, Chinese giant salamanders are under greater threat from climate change – rising global temperatures and drought certainly won’t work when they are already very vulnerable,” Turvy said.
“They have long faced threats such as poaching, habitat loss and pollution, but when you add climate change to the mix, their chances of survival become very slim,” he added.
“They can only live in freshwater environments, and declining water levels will inevitably put pressure on their numbers across China.”
Conservation groups such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) say the plight of the Yangtze River is of great concern not only to the Chinese people and government, but also to the broader international community.
“Rivers around the world, from Europe to the United States, have declined to historically low flow levels that are negatively affecting ecosystems,” said chief scientist Jeff Oberman.
“Reduced river flow and warmer Yangtze water poses a threat to freshwater species and increases pressure on already endangered animals such as the remaining Yangtze River hogs and Chinese crocodiles remaining in the wild. Lower river levels also affect the health of (nearby) lakes and wetlands, which are vital for millions of migratory birds along the East Asian flight path.
Hua, a conservation ecologist, said that more public awareness and more efforts The help of the shrinking Great River of China was needed. “Humans depend on nature to survive. This is a lesson for any civilization,” she said.
“The Yangtze River is the longest river in China and (all of) Asia and has long been the cradle of civilization. Despite severe conservation threats and losses over the years, there is still plenty of biodiversity to preserve in and along the Yangtze.”
Few would deny the significance and symbolism of the Yangtze River. But experts say unless action is taken – and soon – more species will follow the fate of the baiji and the Chinese paddlefish.
British zoologist Turvy warned of the kind of complacency that allowed Peggy to disappear.
“The Yangtze River has been the jewel in the crown of Asia. There is still plenty of biodiversity to fight for and we must not give up hope of saving species such as giant salamanders, river reptiles and others.”
“If there is anything we can learn from the death of the Yangtze River dolphin, it is that extinction lasts forever and we cannot take it seriously.”