“River pig” is the Chinese name for the freshwater porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides), an endangered species. China’s official news service Xinhua says that, in the past month and a half, twelve of the animals (including a pregnant one) have been found dead in Dongting Lake in south-central Hunan province. Six dead porpoises have also been found in Poyang Lake in the eastern province of Jiangxi.
Scientists are predicting that the porpoises, which have lived in the Yangtze River and nearby lakes for 20 million years, could become extinct in the next decade and a half.
It is a terrifying testament about how three decades of unbridled economic growth have taken a shocking toll on China’s environment and wildlife. Wang Kexiong, a researcher at China’s Institute of Hydrobiology , says that a combination of water pollution — toxic waste from factories and farms have contaminated many of China’s waterways — as well as shipping, sand dredging and illegal fishing are all culprits, according to Agence France-Presse via Raw Story.
Climate change has also been pointed to, as water levels have fallen with changing climate patterns and caused the porpoises’ food supplies to decrease. Local fishermen have asked if water pollution might be a reason, noting that they routinely see dead fish and other aquatic animals in the water.
This video shows the river porpoise in an aquarium in Wuhan:
Only 1,200 river porpoises were estimated to be alive in 2006, the year in which another species, the Baiji (a freshwater dolphin native to the Yangtze River area) was declared extinct. Only 65 freshwater porpoises have been counted in Dongting Lake and 300-400 in Poyang Lake this year.
Yueyang city near Dongting Lake has called for an investigation. But it also seems high time for China to step up its lax environmental regulations, to preserve what remains of its wildlife whose survival is more and more threatened every day in the water and on the land.
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