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It's not easy to pollute the Yangtze River, says an animal conservation expert



Posted April 13, 2004

I never know what to expect from one city to the next. After the dismal city of Jiujiang, my next stop down the Yangtze River is Anqing, a much nicer place. This is odd because Jiangxi, the province where Jiujiang is located, is richer than Anhui, Anqing’s province.

Anqing looks great mostly because the municipal government has tried hard to beautify it. The banks of a large man-made lake within the city are well landscaped. Several taxi drivers, though, tell me that this effort is not enough to attract investors. They claim that no one invests in Anhui. I later find this to be untrue.

Facilities of Anqing Petrochemical.

The site of China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (Sinopec) subsidiary Anqing Petrochemical is located near the center of the city. Anqing operates an oil refinery and also produces fertilizers, plastics, and acrylic fiber. I have not arranged an appointment with Sinopec, so I can only take photos from the road. The photos turn out great. The moon is visible, but it’s not dark yet.

The next day, I show up at Anqing Hexing Chemical, in Anqing’s industrial park where many plots are still empty. I meet with Hexing’s deputy manager of sales and logistics, Lu Ways. He says the company, a producer of succinic acid, pigments, and polyurethane glue, was formed eight years ago. It is owned by a group of investors from the provinces of Jiangsu and Anhui. It is not yet listed on the stock market. The company’s sales are growing 40% per year, and they reached $3 million last year. Hexing is completing the construction of its second manufacturing site in Anqing.

Lu does not know why Hexing’s sales are growing so fast. About 80% of its succinic acid and half of the pigments are exported. Most of the company’s sales are handled by trading companies. Foreign customers, Lu says, receive the products in packages that do not show the manufacturer. He agrees that relying on trading companies prevents Hexing from gaining an understanding of foreign markets. But, he says, it’s expensive to set up foreign branches. Moreover, there is a lack of foreign-language speakers within the company.

As we part, Lu asks me about salaries in the U.S. I tell him that a manager like him, in his thirties, would probably earn about $45,000 a year. With more experience, he would earn more. Lu, who probably earns a fraction of that amount, looks at me incredulously.

Outside the company’s gates, I hail a cab. There are two men sitting in the front. I tell them my destination is Xuancheng, 300 km from Anqing. The two agree to take me there, but the trip begins with a long discussion between them. It turns out that they have no idea how to get to Xuancheng. I noted previously that few people seem to know anything about places located more than 150 km away from their homes. I give the two men directions to Xuancheng by looking at my own Collins map.

We never get lost, but it takes more than five hours to complete the trip. About half of the road is under construction and stretches are barely passable. When we finally arrive in Xuancheng in the evening, my blue shoulder bag has turned brown with dust. Xuancheng looks like the poorest town I have yet been to in China. Fortunately, everyone I talk to knows about the Yangtze alligators, the reason for my trip here.

The Yangtze alligators are endangered. Only a few are left in the wild. But in Xuancheng, there is a center that is raising thousands in captivity. I figure there will be some people at the center who are knowledgeable about Yangtze River ecology.

Xuancheng's alligator park breeds enough animals to sell the meat to at least one restaurant.

The Chinese alligator breeding center is just outside Xuancheng city proper. Whereas I expected the operation to be run by and for scientists, it is evidently Xuancheng’s main tourist attraction. In addition to the ponds where the alligators are kept, the park contains a restaurant serving alligator meat, a karaoke bar, an amusement park, and a camel.

The center does not hand out any literature. But it does offer the chance to get within 3 feet of the alligators. They are rather small creatures, no longer than 6 feet. I find out from a 16-year-old ticket seller that the center is home to 10,000 animals. She says it is the only place in China where one can eat Yangtze alligator meat. Despite what other restaurants in China claim, she adds, the alligator meat they serve is imported from Thailand.

Inside the center, construction workers are building new ponds, an indication that harvesting alligator meat has not curtailed the reptiles’ population growth.

In the park’s office, I meet Xie Wan-Shu, the director of the Anhui Research Center for Chinese Alligator Reproduction. He informs me that the alligators’ original habitat is not the Yangtze River itself, but the Yangtze River valley—flat land close to the delta. The animals are disappearing not because of pollution, he says, but because humans are encroaching on their habitat.

The Yangtze alligators are Xuancheng's main tourist attraction.
Photos by Jean-François Tremblay

Although he is not an expert on the Yangtze’s ecology, Xie says the river is not very polluted. First, there are strict government controls on discharges into the river, he says. He adds that the river is difficult to seriously pollute because it flows too fast and carries a great volume of water.

Xie’s observations confirm my own throughout this trip. There had been few manufacturing facilities located on the banks of the Yangtze. And I know that most major cities have or are building wastewater treatment plants.

This is a bit less than I had hoped to learn about pollution of the Yangtze River. But seeing the alligators was great. I go back to the hotel and arrange for a car to take me to Nanjing. The end of the trip is in sight.

[Back to Chronicling the Yangtze River]

  Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2004

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