Witness to Extinction: How We Failed to Save the Yangtze River Dolphin

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The tragic recognition of the extinction of the Yangtze River Dolphin or baiji in 2007 became a major news story and sent shockwaves around the world. It made a romantic story, for the baiji was a unique and beautiful creature that features in many Chinese legends and folk tales. The Goddess of the Yangtze, as it was known, was also the lone representative of an entire and ancient branch of the Tree of Life. But perhaps the greater tragedy is that its status as one of the world's most threatened mammals had been...
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Witness to Extinction: How We Failed to Save the Yangtze River Dolphin

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Overview


The tragic recognition of the extinction of the Yangtze River Dolphin or baiji in 2007 became a major news story and sent shockwaves around the world. It made a romantic story, for the baiji was a unique and beautiful creature that features in many Chinese legends and folk tales. The Goddess of the Yangtze, as it was known, was also the lone representative of an entire and ancient branch of the Tree of Life. But perhaps the greater tragedy is that its status as one of the world's most threatened mammals had been widely recognized, yet despite wide publicity virtually no international funds became available.

Samuel Turvey here tells the story of the plight of the Yangtze River Dolphin from his unique perspective as a conservation biologist deeply involved in the struggle to save the dolphin. This is both a celebration of a beautiful and remarkable animal that once graced one of China's greatest rivers, its natural history and its role as a cultural symbol; and also a personal, eyewitness account of the failures of policy and the struggle to get funds that led to its tragic demise. It is a true cautionary tale that we must learn from, for there are countless other threatened species that will suffer from the same human mistakes, and whose loss we shall not know until it is too late.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A compelling narrative...In a style that evokes Dian Fossey's Gorillas in the Mist, Turvey weaves natural history, ecology, and poltics into a tapestry that illustrates the pattern of human impact across the globe. Turvey provides a valuable resource for conservation and restoration professionals to debate very important issues for biodiversity."-- Journal of Environmental Quality

"A must-read perspective for those who think of conservation as a vigorous fight to save biodiversity rather than an academic discipline. Written from the point of view of a scientist actively involved in the fight to save the dolphin, the book seethes with personal anger while at the same time being highly scholarly."--The Quarterly Review of Biology

"An eye-opening tale."--Sierra Club

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

Turvey, a conservation biologist with the Zoological Society of London, was a researcher and lead author of the 2006 scientific report that found that the baiji-a pearly-white freshwater dolphin formerly endemic to China's Yangtze River-were probably extinct. This book chronicles the last-ditch efforts he and others took to save them. Industrialization in China has had incredible ecological costs; the Yangtze is not only a superhighway of ship traffic, but a receptacle for continuous discharges of raw sewage and toxic industrial effluents, and the baiji are just one of many species to suffer rapid declines (shad, sturgeon, paddlefish, aquatic birds). Among human inhabitants on the Yangtze basin, dysentery and intestinal cancers are already epidemic. Though grim, Turvey's work is also a primer on the science, politics and ethos of conservation, including case histories of successful recovery programs (e.g., the California Condor). Withering in his criticism of the Chinese bureaucracy, the rivalries between competing research institutes, the reluctance of outside scientists to become involved, and the frequently self-serving machinations of environmental activists, Turvey's book is a harsh cautionary tale that's honest and realistic about what's needed to save species facing extinction.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199549474
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 1/15/2009
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 5.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Samuel Turvey is Research Fellow at the Institute of Zoology, a department of the Zoological Society of London. He is a conservation biologist with a principal interest in the history and prehistory of human-caused extinctions and in developing conservation strategies for today's threatened species. He was deeply involved with the conservation efforts surrounding the Yangtze River dolphin, and was the lead author of the 2007 paper which declared that it was probably extinct, generating tremendous international media attention.

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Table of Contents

Author's Note ix

Prologue x

Part 1 The Beginning

1 The Goddess of the Yangtze 3

2 The Amazon of the East 17

3 The Aquatic Panda 41

4 East Meets West 54

Part 2 The End

5 The Rarest Animal in the World 83

6 The Politics of Extinction 111

7 End Game 135

8 The Hunting of the Snark 147

9 The Golden Channel 164

10 So Long, and Thanks for All the Fishing 178

11 What Have We Learnt? Collected Fictions 197

Epilogue: And Then There Was One 206

Suggested Reading 211

Notes 215

Acknowledgements 222

About the Author 225

Index 226

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  • Posted March 5, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    this is a very informative book

    this is a very informative book

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