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White-flag Dolphin Resettled for Protection

White-flag dolphin, an endangered animal that lives in the Yangtze River, may soon have a secure and relatively permanent home.

China plans to resettle its fewer than 100 white-flag dolphins into an exclusive wetland nature reserve named Tian'ezhou islet in Shishou, central China's Hubei Province, according to zoologists from the province.

The plan has obtained preliminary approval from the state.

The zoologists believe that relocation will protect the dolphins from water pollution and busy navigation in other sections of the Yangtze River.

Data from the Chinese Academy of Sciences show that there were about 400 white-flag dolphins at the beginning of 1980s. According to a survey conducted in 1986, the total number of white-flag dolphins shrank to about 300. The figure further dropped under 200 in 1999 and below 100 in 1994. The number continues to decrease and the species is nearing extinction.

A dolphin nature reserve was established at the Tian'ezhou islet in 1996, which was in the middle of the old course of the Yangtze River. After the river changed its route, a loop-shaped water area has formed there with a total space of about 2,000 hectares.

The experts said vegetation and wetland function have been restored there. Now, there are 20-odd black finless porpoises living in the Tian'ezhou, with two baby porpoises born every year.

This means the environment there is suitable for the dolphins.

The zoologists said the resettlement plan will start at the end of this year or the beginning of next year, when the Yangtze is at its lowest water level.

If the decline of the dolphin could not be stopped, the white-flag dolphin would become the first dolphin to become extinct because of human activities. The animal is only found in China and cannot be reared artificially, so its extinction would leave a permanent hole, the zoologists said.

Overfishing, deteriorating environment, construction of dams and water conservancy projects have all contributed to the decline of white-flag dolphins. Some experts predicted that the rare dolphin would possibly extinct within 20 years.

(Xinhua News Agency December 12, 2004)

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