[MARMAM] Baiji River Dolphin Questionnaire

leigh at vaquita.org leigh at vaquita.org
Mon Apr 13 14:04:10 PDT 2009

Subject: Why Did The Yangtze River Dolphin Become Functionally Extinct?
A Socio-Economic Analysis of Historical Baiji Conservation Efforts:

Dear Colleagues,

China's Yangtze River dolphin or baiji (Lipotes vexillifer) made world  
headline news in December 2006 after an extensive six-week survey of  
its historical range failed to find a single surviving individual.  
Since this time no authentic sightings have been reported, and the  
species is considered to be probably extinct. This represents the  
disappearance of an entire mammal family, and the first cetacean  
species to have been wiped out by human activity. The probable  
extinction of the baiji also represents the first disappearance of a  
large-bodied vertebrate species since the emergence of an  
international network of conservation organizations that have tended  
to prioritize conservation efforts on such charismatic animals.

Many other cetaceans (such as the vaquita and the Indian river  
dolphins), and a growing number of other species worldwide, are also  
in imminent danger of extinction. It is therefore imperative to  
identify the key lessons that can be learnt from the history of  
attempts to conserve the baiji, and the ultimate failure of these  
attempts to prevent the extinction of this species, before this  
knowledge is lost with time. How was it possible for a species of  
river dolphin to become extinct, when it should have been the focus of  
intensive conservation attention and activity? Without a fuller  
understanding of the failure of baiji conservation efforts - in terms  
of management, bureaucracy and implementation of recovery plans - the  
same failures are fated to play themselves out with other Critically  
Endangered species.

With support from the US Marine Mammal Commission, Hong Kong Ocean  
Park Foundation, the Zoological Society of London and the People?s  
Trust for Endangered Species, we are conducting an in-depth  
investigation into the socio-economic factors that influenced  
international baiji conservation efforts over recent decades. In order  
to collect meaningful comparative data on this crucial subject, we  
have developed a standard baiji conservation questionnaire. We are  
currently distributing this questionnaire to organisations and  
participants who have been involved with past baiji conservation  
efforts, in order to quantify the different types of baiji  
conservation efforts that were conducted or supported; the economic  
resources made available for these efforts; the factors that  
influenced support for different strategies; and perceptions regarding  
roles and responsibilities concerning strategy implementation.

It is our intention to make this study as broad and inclusive as  
possible. A Chinese-language version of this questionnaire is being  
sent to all key government agencies, officials and scientific  
institutions within China who have been involved in baiji conservation  
efforts during the last four decades. An English-language version is  
being sent to all individuals and organizations outside China who  
played a prominent role in historical baiji conservation efforts. We  
are also making the questionnaire available on-line, so that it can be  
completed by any other individuals or conservation organisations that  
were also involved in baiji conservation. If the latter applies to you  
or your organization, we would be extremely grateful if you could find  
the time to complete the questionnaire and return it to us by email at  
the following address:

leigh at vaquita.org

Copies of the 'Individual' and 'Organization' questionnaire can be  
downloaded from the following website:


All questionnaires are anonymous, although we request that the  
informant?s name or organisation should be included for the purpose of  
classifying different responses prior to analysis of results. The  
results of this study will be prepared for publication in an  
international peer-reviewed conservation science journal.

Your contribution will be invaluable for us to learn what went wrong  
for the baiji, and how we can work to prevent similar failures from  
taking place in the future. If you have any questions about the  
questionnaire please do not hesitate to contact us. We thank you in  
advance for giving your valuable time to this initiative.

Kind regards,

Leigh Barrett
leigh at vaquita.org

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