One of the goals of our project to learn about baiji conservation in China was to visit the semi-natural reserves which have been established at two sites (Tongling and Shishou) in oxbows of the Yangtze River. Unfortunately, as we will explain below, we were unable to do so. Before going into the details, however, we should give a little background on the current status of the reserves. First and most important, a viable breeding population of baiji has never been successfully captured and introduced into either reserve, which is their overall goal. Of course, this is not for lack of trying: Dr. Zhang told us that during the spring of 1995, they had a team of 70 people and 22 boats searching the lower Yangtze River for baiji, but they saw only 4 or 5 dolphins and were unable to capture any of them. Since the numbers of wild baiji have dwindled to the point of “functional extinction” in 2006, it is almost certain that the semi-natural reserves will never sustain a breeding population of baiji.
Second, a group of about ten finless porpoises was introduced into the Shishou reserve several years ago to test the feasibility of raising a population of marine mammals in the facility. They are still living there, although there has been at least one accident involving net-entanglements that resulted in the deaths of several animals.