From 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.
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Zoologist Turvey published a scientific paper in 2007 concluding that the Yangtze River dolphin has become extinct; this anguished chronicle expands on his last-ditch campaign to avert the mammal’s oblivion. As background to his involvement, Turvey recounts the creature’s role in Chinese folk stories, its scientific classification as Lipotes vexillifer in 1918, and estimates of its population. As Chinese zoologists resumed work after the Cultural Revolution, they noted a decline in numbers attributable to industrial degradation of the Yangtze River environment and initiated a captive breeding program. Turvey comments skeptically about the quality of the Chinese program, whose lack of success in the face of imminent extinction mobilized him to impassioned action. In biting terms, Turvey indicts the financial backer of his enterprise as an undependable publicity seeker, and scores, too, a perceived indifference to his grant applications from well-known international conservation groups. Surmounting obstacles, Turvey succeeds in launching his expedition on the Yangtze, a voyage of demoralizing discovery that the dolphins have vanished. Turvey’s work of warning should sting the community of endangered-species organizations. --Gilbert Taylor
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