Thursday, August 09, 2007

Mao's latest victims: the white river dolphins


To be fair, the title of this post could just have easily have been titled, Man's latest victims, but I didn't want to waste an opportunity to throw a little mud at the whacked out ex-chairman.

Twenty million years ago, dolphins made it into the Yangtze River in China and decided to stay. They became known as the Yangtze River freshwater dolphins, or baiji. They were also called the Goddesses of the Yangtze and people worshipped them. They were believed to be the spirits of young women who had been forced into marriages they did not want, who took their lives in China's longest river

Whether they were goddesses or ghosts or just freshwater cetaceans is sort of a moot point now because they are gone, extinct, dead as dodos. Pollution, that stupid dam and illegal fishing have finally taken their toll. The Guardian article, Yangtze river dolphin driven to extinction, claimed that Mao provided one of the proverbial last nails,
Historically, the species had been revered and achieved nearly demi-god status among fishermen who recounted tales of dolphins being reincarnations of drowned princesses. But in Mao's Great Leap Forward, the overthrowing of idols saw their protection lifted and they were hunted for food and their skin.
Next up? The Chinese finless porpoise, also found in the Yangtze, has an estimated population of about 400. That's where the baiji were about twenty years ago. And again, two posts in a row I am reminded of the Cree saying, which I thought was from the Blackfoot,
Only when the last tree has withered, and the last fish caught, and the last river been poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.
But I am also reminded of Pastor Martin Niemöller's poem about the Nazis, which has many different versions,
They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
These animals that we are ticking off the list one by one should be seen as our canaries in the coal mine. For whatever reason a specific species is ground back to dust, we must stop and realize that soon our names will be next on that list.

2 comments:

Laurie said...

This reminds me of 'The Lorax' by Dr. Seuss. Great book to read to your kids and introduce them to the concept of caring about the world we live in. It was one of Sophie's favourites when she was younger.

Sean said...

Very few people know it, Laurie, but The Lorax was viewed in some quarters as a stinging critique of Chairman Mao.