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Welsh wildlife charity helps to save porpoises.

Byline: Sally Williams Farming Editor sally.williams@walesonline.co.uk

WWF Cymru is helping four Yangtze finless porpoises that have been released into their new home, marking the start of an ambitious translocation project to help save the critically-endangered species from extinction.

The finless porpoises - part of an estimated population of just 1,000 - were captured in Poyang Lake in eastern China before being safely moved 400 km to the He-wangmiao/Ji-cheng-yuan oxbow, where they will start a new population.

Four other finless porpoises from Poyang Lake are also being translocated to the Tian-e-zhou oxbow to boost the genetic diversity of its small population.

Dr Wang Ding, researcher at the Institution of Hydrobiology (IHB) of the Chinese Academy of Science, which is leading the translocation project, said: "Based on current numbers and rate of decline, the Yangtze finless porpoise will likely be extinct in the next five to 10 years.

"To prevent the finless porpoise from suffering the same fate as the Baiji Dolphin, which is now extinct in the Yangtze River, we must focus on translocation, while also working to conserve the porpoise's natural habitat."

Since 2002, WWF has worked with the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), the IHB and other partners to conserve the finless porpoise. WWF played a role in selecting, studying and preparing the new site, as well as training the staff. WWF also organized a survey of the finless porpoise. "It is an honour to witness this historic moment because, by conserving the finless porpoise, we are also helping to conserve the ecosystem of the Yangtze River," said Lu Sze Ping, from WWF China.

"WWF has been working with the government and partners for years to protect and enlarge finless porpoise habitats along the Yangtze, and we welcome the creation of this new population."

WWF Cymru said a thriving new population is critical to the species' survival because its numbers are falling by up to 13.7% a year due to the environmental impact of human activities along the Yangtze, including shipping, sand mining, pollution, illegal fishing and water projects.

With the species swiftly disappearing, the MOA launched a new conservation plan for the finless porpoise last October, which included translocation as a critical component.

Yu Kangzhen, MOA vice minister said: "Translocating some finless porpoises to a new home will help give the species a chance to survive and thrive."

A WWF Cymru spokesman said: "The omens for success are good, following the success of a previous translocation in the 1990s.

"Over the next 20 years, while finless porpoise numbers plummeted in the main river, the population in the Tian-e-zhou oxbow slowly increased to 45, with up to six babies now born each year. But the oxbow is approaching its carrying capacity, another reason why the new porpoise expansion site is so vital and timely."

The oxbow has been divided into separate zones. All fishing activities have been prohibited in the 16.6 km2 core area, which boasts the most suitable habit for the porpoise and is separated from the buffer zone by security fences. While some fishing activities will be allowed in the buffer zone, WWF has been working with local authorities to draw up a plan to provide technical and financial support to help local fishermen develop alternative livelihoods.

Lei Gang, WWF Yangtze programme senior director said: "The survival of this new population of Yangtze finless porpoises depends on the support and involvement of the local communities.

"By helping fishermen to develop new ways of providing for their families, WWF and the local authorities are ensuring that the translocation will benefit both porpoises and people."

This week's translocation is the first step in along process, with hopes that the oxbow could eventually be home to 100 Yangtze finless porpoises. Together with Tian-ezhou oxbow, the new site will form part of a network of finless porpoise reserves.

CAPTION(S):

Chinese scientists and local fishermen during a translocation exercise finless porpoises in the Yangtze River, China

Welsh supporters of WWF Cymru are helping to save the finless porpoise from extinction
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Apr 7, 2015
Words:674
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