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River Dolphins in captivity!

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by Dallaspachyderm, 5 Feb 2011.

  1. Dallaspachyderm

    Dallaspachyderm Well-Known Member

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    River dolphins have not fared well in captivity! It seems over 100 amazon river dolphins were imported to the western world in the 1970's, and what do we have to show for it?
    1.0 at zoo duisburg, this male is aging and his companion died back in 2006.
    The last river dolphin in the united states died in 2002 in Pittsburgh
    Apparently the problem was that these dolphins do not sleep like other cetaceans, they need to be held up by the slope of a river bank... So many of these animals slowly died of sleep deprivation. Animal rights activist have used zoo's poor history against them, so I have heard no news of future imports. The DWA's owner actually wanted Amazonian dolphins to fill the current Orinoco river habitat now occupied by manatees.
    Pink river dolphins seem to be more common in their homerange countries. For example the Valencia aquarium in Venezuela has a breeding group of 2.5, I have heard of several zoos and aquaria in Brazil that claim to have them as well, and I know for sure the Iquitos zoo in Peru has an older male (in a terrible enclosure!)

    The Yangtze finless porpoise has actually been quite successful in captivity, the Institue of Hydrobiology in Wuhan has 3.1 (two of those born at the aquarium) Just imagine if a captive population was established!? With fewer than 1,000 remaining in the Yangtze this would be a spart thing to do, so they don't go the way of the baiji.

    Speaking of the Baiji, have any of you ever thought of cloning? The Nanjing Normal College's genetic resource center has genetic material from numerous baiji the died through out the years. This could offer an entire population just from one cloning project... But what species would be the surrogate? I was thinking bottle nose dolphins.

    To my knowledge there are no Indus/Ganges river dolphins in captivity. This is a shame because little is known about them, they are small and love swimming in circles (therefore don't require the space of other species). Their populations are also declining in their rivers.

    I think it would be amazing if a zoo created a river goddess section with dolphins/porpoises from the world's rivers and actually bred them. It could be a revolution in the zoo world! I really don't want to see any other cetaceans go the way of the Baiji, and now that we have more knowledge on the husbandry of cetaceans (including Amazonian river dolphins) don't you think more zoos/aquariums should be trying to get them? I for one do not want to see carribean manatees in the Zoo Duisburg orinoco enclosure.

    What do you think?
     
  2. condor

    condor Well-Known Member

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    For the next dolphin likely to become extinct you don't have to look to China. Gulf of California will do: Vaquita.

    Cloning is very expensive and very difficult. Can we justify spending huge sums on trying to get an extinct animal back when there are animals that are approacing extinction every day and could be saved by much less money? In the future perhaps but not now. Even if they were successful in cloning several baiji what would they do with them? Clone it just so we can have it in captivity? Unless things change in the Yangze River there is no wild habitat they could be released to.

    At this point I think bringing an endangered dolphin into captivity would be a bad idea. Yes we now know more about husbandry than we did some years ago but I am not aware of any species of dolphin where the breeding rate in captivity match or even approach that in the wild. In other words: They breed faster in the wild than in captivity. Before even considering bringing an endangered species into captivity you have to be reasonably sure it can be kept at levels where the captive populations at least is self-sustaining (birth rate ≥ death rate). How many dolphin species have truly self-sustaining populations in captivity? Not many...

    If a high class facility in North America or Europe wanted Amazon river dolphins I would not be opposed to that. But that is because it is a widespread species that is locally common in the wild.
     
  3. Dallaspachyderm

    Dallaspachyderm Well-Known Member

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    Yes I know about the Vaquita.

    Well, would you rather cloning money be spent on baiji then wooly mammoths? Which takes a crucial breeding female elephant. But I would have to agree with you on the spending all of our conservation funds on species we can save! Which brings me back to the porpoise!
    It was recently declared its own species completely seperate from the oceanic variety. With fewer than 1,000 individuals it would seem it could be stabalized. But there has to be some sort of massive reform of the Yangtze. Electro fishing and pollution are the main threat right now.
    Anyway, when the Baiji.org website was up there was annual news on Yangtze porpoise births. Meaning that they did breed quite normally. A male and female from the wild had calves in both 2007 and 2008. I heard they actually had to put them on birth control because of the lacking space in the aquarium for another calf. Just imagine a large scale international breeding program as a fall back population?!?

    As for the Amazonian dolphin it couldn't hurt to keep a back up population in case things start getting bad...
     
  4. Whats an Ounce

    Whats an Ounce Active Member

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    That poor dolphin in Duisburg, my heart goes out to him. Don't get me wrong, it is a brilliant exhibit (definitely in my top 20) but he just looked so lonely. I must have sat there for over an hour looking at that majestic beast gliding in the water (and getting increasingly worried by the tamarins' confidence, (the fruit in my bag is mine, moochers!!)) but that dolphin was clearly yearning for a connection. He even found it for a while with a young blond child in a leather jacket. I, mean he followed that kid like a dog, from end to end of the glass, up and down with his hand, talk about your human-animal interaction. And the kid clearly got a kick out of it, but then he was gone, and he was alone again.
    Is it normal for a dolphin to play with his food for over twenty minutes? He clearly needed both companionship and mental stimulation. And no matter how well designed that exhibit may be, and how well the Duisburg keepers have studied him and know him, it's no substituion for interaction with a fellow dolphin.
    As great as the experience was, it was still tinged with sadness. And I am such a huge zoo fan, but that dolphin's eyes just gave away too much intelligence and it felt like he knew this was it and he was just waiting, passing the time until he dies.

    I've got such a horrible feeling for the ganges/indus river dolphins and the finless porpoises. China and India (and to a lesser extent Pakistan) are so focussed in their goal of acheiving economic parity (or even supremacy) with the already industrialised world that they are making sure that nothing gets in their way.

    And unfotunately the major rivers that these cetaceans call their home are important economical axes of communication/navigation and sustenance (for man).

    Cloning is a bad idea for a whole bag of reasons, not just how little we really know about the process. And let's face it, there are some serious ethical questions related to playing God and I know that buddhism and hinduism both condemn such things.

    If we want to save any of these species, in situ conservation is by far the most important tool and there would have to be a significant, and i mean really really significant, economic incentive which I just don't see. If there was, then there would clearly be more information on the indus river dolphin, which is still surprisingly poorly documented given where it lives. I don't think the asian river dolphins ever stood a chance against humanity's self-importance.

    On a more positive note, if you win the exhibit design competition, will the task be to design an exhibit for a river dwelling cetacean?
     
  5. Dallaspachyderm

    Dallaspachyderm Well-Known Member

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    I completly agree about the Duisburg situation! They should try to get the male from Peru or one of the females from Valencia! Thinking about that Duisburg male, made me think of QiQi the baiji! He was alone for over twenty years. Which makes me wonder, did we really get to know the real baiji?

    Yes, cloning poses an ethical question, but we were the reason that baijis went extinct in the first place... So didn't we play god in that aspect?

    China and India say that they are trying to help their animals (e.g. Indus dolphin named aquatic animal of india, China setting up several baiji reserves ect.) but really nothing has been done. Six Indus dolphins have been found poisoned by fishermen since the beginning of the year and a survey found only 837 animals down from 1,300. I believe if we take action now with In situ and build up the population to a point where we can try Ex situ.

    Not to be to much of a optamist but does anyone believe remaing baiji could be hiding out in the Yangtze's tributaries?

    As for the exhibit design that is yet to be determined:D my first love is elephants of course!
     
  6. condor

    condor Well-Known Member

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    No, that is a terrible idea and I think the scientist that has said he is going to try it is a fool. Also because we don't even know what wooly mammoths need to thrive. At this point I am opposed to trying to clone any extinct animal because:

    Too difficult: Most die before even being born. Of the ones that are born alive most have serious deficiencies. Like the Pyrenean ibex that was cloned in 2009 and died a few minutes later because of lung problems. Can we justify the often painful death of hundreds of animals just to get one that survive into adulthood? Cloning is even more difficult when only non-embryo cells are available as usually is the case for extinct animals.

    Too expensive: Cloning just one individual of a species that hasn't been cloned and where the exact tecnique hasn't been developed cost millions. If we instead spend those money on trying to save the animals that are still around but approacing extinction we could do much, much more.

    In the future when cloning has become cheaper and easier, then perhaps yes. But not now.

    Not everybody agree on that. I think this article says it best:

    BBC - Earth News - Finless porpoises in China on brink of extinction

    'The "jury is still out" on whether the Yangtze finless porpoise should be granted species status, as more data is required, say the scientists.'

    We need to compare birth rates to the entire captive population and the death rate before we can say anything about it. If there are 20 in captivty and 3 die on average per year and 2 are born on average per year, it still wouldn't be self-sustaining. There are also big individual differences and we don't know if the Yangtze finless porpoise pair that bred in 2007 and 2008 are 'normal' for captives. Sometimes you just get a pair that will breed easily when all others won't. I would be interested in knowing where you got the info on birth control from. The first ever breeding was only in 2005 and a Yangtze finless porpoise pregnancy is almost a year. I don't see how space could be a problem because they could just release them into the huge Tian-e-Zhou Semi Natural Baiji Reserve (a lake that is about 20 km long - see below).

    Would be nice. I'm just not sure it is realistic. I also think there are other more effecient ways of safeguarding the Yangtze finless porpoise. Like the project at Tian-e-Zhou Semi Natural Baiji Reserve where a few were released and are thriving and breeding well

    http://www.baiji.org/in-depth/baiji/finless-porpoise/conservation-status.html

    I guess the Yangtze finless porpoise will not go the same way as the baiji. It is less specialized and that makes it less vulnerable than the baiji. I also think the Chinese authorities got a wake-up call with the baiji and won't let it happen to the Yangtze finless porpoise. The Chinese are starting to think of themselves as a leading nation and loosing another dolphin from the exact same river where they lost a dolphin earlier would be considered an imbaresment.

    I am more afraid for the river dolphins in India. And people sometimes forget that the big rivers in Asia hold MANY endemic species that are heading for extinction or already are gone. Most are fish and because they are less charismatic than river dolphins there are sadly much fewer people that care about them. In the book 'Extinctions in Near Time' the name of the chapter on fish described it well:
    'The Quiet Crisis. A preliminary listing of the freshwater fishes of the world that are Extinct or Missing in Action.'
     
    Last edited: 5 Feb 2011
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  7. Dicerorhinus

    Dicerorhinus Well-Known Member

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    The best way to conserve river dolphins is to translocate animals to lakes where they are easier to protect. This was to be method employed by the last ditch effort to save the Baiji, but as you are aware the species was already lost.

    I actually think that Ganges River Dolphins would make fantastic additions to many to zoos particularly institutions like Disney’s Animal Kingdom or Gladys Porter Zoo, where there are large bodies of water in a suitable climate. Unfortunately the Chances are remote the anti-captive cetacean lobby (organisation like WDCS) already make it very difficult to maintain cetaceans and the Indian authorities are reluctant to move animals across their borders.

    I would love to see the species kept at Silver Springs in Florida.
     
  8. Dallaspachyderm

    Dallaspachyderm Well-Known Member

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    You are right with all things regarded to cloning. It is a science that is still basically new, and I wouldn't trust it with something as precious as the baiji. Hopefully sometime in the future (where I'm wishing they Yangtze river has become a somewhat better environment.

    I also agree about there are other things we could be doing to save the porpoise. But I don't really trust the Chinese government to actually do anything for the porpoise other than listing them. Here are my pros for keeping finnless porpoise in captivity:
    -they are tiny and cute
    -The Baiji aquarium in Wuhan has proven they can be bred (further study needed)
    -They are charasmatic
    -Active
    -Freshwater
    -Unique
    With the above good reasons to keep them in captivity I think it would be the smart thing to do. The Baiji aquarium tried far too late into the baiji's demise to start a breeding program where all three females brought in to breed with QiQi died. And the female in the semi-wild preserve drowned in netting after a flood. After this no additional baiji could be found to save the species (there was talk of releasing QiQi into the preserve with this female. But I honestly don't think this aquarium wants to send its main attractions that serve as conservation embassadors to a lake. But this is where all future animals could be released there

    As for the India/Pakistan dolphins: It is a shame. Plain and simple. They are so unique and amazing. It blows my mind that the world can stand by and watch these animals plumet towards zero. Well then again almost nobody knows what river dolphins are either. I am a highschooler in Texas. And I have to explain what river dolphins are to people. But after I tell them about the dolphins they are amazed! Couldn't this be another reason why they are good for captivity? Nobody knows, and once they find out they want to know more!
     
  9. Dallaspachyderm

    Dallaspachyderm Well-Known Member

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    Yes the lake translocation is probably what will save the finless porpoise. As for the Ganges/Indus dolphins their future looks shady. As for the Amazons: we should start preparing now; so another freshwater cetacean distaster doesn't happen...
     
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  10. Johnny

    Johnny Well-Known Member

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    About the duisburg dolphin; you do know these animals lead solitary lives?
     
  11. Dallaspachyderm

    Dallaspachyderm Well-Known Member

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    Actually, that is not entirely true. Males form pods with other male when it is not breeding season. And females often travel in groups of other females in their groups (Amazonian^)
    When the Indus/Ganges populations were larger seeing pairs or small pods was quite common. Same thing with the Baiji in the 1950's
    Yangtze Finless porpoise are very social and have been found in pods over 25 even though their population is rapidly delcining as well.
    The mekong dolphin also enjoy the company of other dolphins, and always have at least another with them, but they are usually in pods.
     
  12. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

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    This is really fascinating re: river dolphins dying of sleep deprivation.

    As a wildlife conservationist I have to ask if it would at all be ethical to bring anymore of these guys into captivity if a large scale attempt to establish them has obviously failed. I don't think that it would. I am speaking as someone who would also LOVE to see these animals without having to go to the Amazon or China. I was disappointed that I never got out to the Pittsburgh Zoo in time to see their dolphin.

    The only way that I could possibly see justifying keeping river dolphins in captivity is as a last-ditch conservation effort to keep the hyper-rare ones from going extinct. Obviously this didn't work for the baiji. Have you read Douglas Adam's account of this story in his book "Last Chance to See"?

    I really wish that zoos and aquariums would find effective ways to become conservation advocates and educators for species that they don't keep. The river dolphins of the world would be prime species to try this out with.
     
  13. Bib Fortuna

    Bib Fortuna Well-Known Member

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    Which Zoos / aquariums ever hold Amazon River dolphins ? I know, Pittssburgh Zoo, Steinhart aquarium and Kamogawa Seworld, Duisburg and Valencia stil does, but I guess, there were more ? Seaworld maybe, too?

    It would be nice t o know all other places this species was kept in the past. Thanks.
     
  14. DDcorvus

    DDcorvus Well-Known Member

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    Did Valencia house any Botos? Duisburg did and still has a single male, but I wasn't aware of any in Valancia.
     
  15. kiang

    kiang Well-Known Member

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    The Valencia mentioned is actually in Venezuela, not Spain and they bred them there too, for a first captive breeding.
     
  16. DDcorvus

    DDcorvus Well-Known Member

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    Whoops, thanks Kiang for the correction :). And do they still have any Botos? Because I remember there was some unclarity on that.
     
  17. HyakkoShachi

    HyakkoShachi Well-Known Member

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    As far as I can tell the botos at the Valencia aquarium are still there. There's also one at the Quistococha zoo in Iquitos, Peru which was apparently a rescue animal.
     
  18. TheMightyOrca

    TheMightyOrca Well-Known Member

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    I think there have been a few South Asian river dolphins (can't remember if it was Ganges or Indus) kept in captivity in the US decades ago, but I can't remember the name of the aquarium at the moment. This paper is a study on a Ganges river dolphin in captivity, but I can't find a site where I can access the full text so I don't know where it was kept. I just went on Google images and found a few photos that appear to be the species in captivity, but the pages don't say anything about the photos.
     
  19. Bib Fortuna

    Bib Fortuna Well-Known Member

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    Any information in whcih zoos!aquariums Amazon River dolphins were kept in teh Satest ? I know
    Steinhart Aquarium
    Shedd Aquarium
    Niagara falls Aquarium ?
    Sea World San Diego(in aTouchpool....)
    Marineland of teh Pacific
    Marineland Florida
    Pittsburgh Zoo
    Fort Worth Zoo ( with a first breeidng in 1968, but teh calf died a few minutes later)

    Any more holders ?

    I know, there was a second birth and the calf live dfor 15 days, but I don't know, where...

    Around 70 Animals were imporetd to the States.
     
  20. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    it was at Marineland of Florida.

    There is an interesting paper which discusses this thread's topic (captures, longevity, breedings, etc), answers many of the questions posed here, and includes Amazon, Yangtze, Indus and Ganges river dolphins, franciscanas, vaquitas, Irrawaddy dolphins, and Yangtze finless porpoises.
    http://www.int-res.com/articles/esr2013/19/n019p223.pdf