It was here in Tongling that a project to create a 'semi-nature reserve' for the baiji was begun in February 1985. Funded by the government, various non-governmental organizations, public donations and commercial sponsorship, its aim is to establish a protected captive breeding population of baiji under semi-natural conditions.

The reserve consists of a strip of water between two triangluar shaped islets, Heyuezhou and Tiebenzhou, in Anhui Province. Directly opposite the small town of Datong, and a little upstream of Tongling, it is in a stretch of the river already frequented by the dolphins. The strip is 1,550m(5,000ft) long and 40-220m (130-720ft) wide. Construction work has been necessary to ensure that the water level remains at or above five metres (16ft 5in) all year round, but water from the main river flows continuously through the channel.

There are metal and bamboo barriers at both ends to prevent the dolphins from escaping, once they have been captured and introduced to the reserve. There are sufficient numbers of fish in the strip but a fish farm has been built on one of the banks to solve this problem.

A hospital has been constructed, together with holding pools in which to keep newly-caught or injured dolphins for initial observation and in order to introduce them to dead rather than live fish as food.

Initially, the project staff will gain experience with finless porpoises before a small number of baiji are captured and introduced to the reserve.

Local support for the project is considerable, since it is likely to provide new jobs and has great potential as a tourist attraction. But there also seems to be a general, and rather unique, feeling that saving the baiji from extinction is a natural duty of the people, whether anyone gains financially or not.

A second semi-nature reserve is now planned for Shishou, further upstream in a fairly remote area of Hubei Province.

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