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Guardian of the Lake


  “I am exhausted,” sighs Xu Yaping, president of Hunan Province’s Yueyang Finless Porpoise Protection Association, grimacing as he takes a long drag from a cigarette. Xu has remained on the front lines of a long battle to protect the ecological environment of Dongting Lake, a place like home for him.

  Located in northeastern Hunan Province, Dongting Lake is the second-largest freshwater lake in China. An important player in regulating the flow of the Yangtze River in its middle reaches, Dongting Lake is also a famous tourist scenic spot. However, due to too much fishing, pollution, and other excessive exploitation of the lake in recent years, Dongting Lake, once a hub for migratory birds, has been shrinking.

  Even worse, the finless porpoise, a freshwater mammal as rare as the giant panda, which lives in Dongting Lake, teeters on the brink of extinction due to the lake’s terrible condition.

  To save the finless porpoise and prevent Dongting Lake’s ecological environment from further deteriorating, Xu Yaping launched a massive conservation effort with his team from the Yueyang Finless Porpoise Protection Association. Along with the finless porpoise, they have also taken measures to help protect the oriental white stork, black stork, little swan and elk.

  Along with 12 volunteering local fishermen and women, President Xu and Deputy President Peng Xianglin desperately patrol Dongting Lake day and night in hopes of protecting its fish stock. They report any illegal fishing to authorities and help confiscate equipment. They also keep an eye on drainage pipelines reaching Dongting Lake from nearby industrial enterprises.

  However, compared to volunteers’ painstaking efforts, the government’s support for the Yueyang Finless Porpoise Protection Association has been miniscule.

  Operating with debt of more than 1.2 million yuan, the group usually can’t cover costs for manpower and materials.

  Actually, running such an organization would be even more difficult if not for Xu Yaping’s employment with Hunan Daily as its Yueyang bureau chief. According to Xu, everything that keeps the organization operating,

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