German firm pledges $2m to save dolphins

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 February, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 February, 1995, 12:00am

CONSERVATIONISTS are about to sign a $2 million deal which could save one of the world's oldest dolphin species from extinction.

The donation to Operation Baiji, formed with the Ocean Park Foundation more than a year ago, could be the only hope for the freshwater dolphin.

Recent surveys have confirmed there are fewer than 150 baiji, putting them among the world's 10 most threatened species.

It was feared the dolphins - which once thrived in the Yangtze River - would die off unless money was found for a Chinese project to move them to a special reserve.

Project co-ordinator Joe Van Der Vegt said the cash was 'just the breakthrough' the group had searched for.

'Funding the project was always going to be of great concern to us but hopefully we can get on with it now,' Mrs Van Der Vegt said.

The money is to come from a German company, whose identity is being withheld until the deal is signed.

'We have had international TV coverage of the plight of the baiji and we're sure this company picked up on the story from that,' Mrs Van Der Vegt said. 'We're just glad they did.' The deal, to be signed in days, will allow the co-ordinators to buy five high-powered boats to trace the dolphin's passage along the Yangtze.

Under the guidance of specialists from the Wuhan Institute of Hydrobiology, the dolphins will be transferred to a special reserve near Shishou in Hubei province.

The conservationists aim to release more than 50 baiji into the reserve, rescuing them from polluted waters and the lethal rolling hooks used by fishermen.

'A team of diving experts is on its way from America to help co-ordinate the catch, so hopefully everything will be in place by March,' Mrs Van Der Vegt said.

Anyone who would like to help fund Operation Baiji can contact Stephen Leatherwood at the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, 2873-8650, or Joe Van De Vegt, 2987-5512.