Any Australians looking for an example of an endangered or vulnerable freshwater species to focus a campaign on might look no further than the Burnett River tortoise.
This species is under threat due to changes in flow regimes on the Burnett, as it lives primarily in riffle habitats and these are disappearing as a consequence of damming the river.
The species was the subject of some controversy during the Paradise Dam proposal and construction. The dam proponents escaped the endangered species label for this tortoise by pointing out it also occurs in the Fitzroy and the Mary and so how could it be endangered if the Dam was built on the Burnett? Of course there was little discussion of the impact of existing and proposed modifications of habitat for this species on those two other river systems. But as one of the leading engineers for the consulting company that prepared the Enironmental Impact Assessment (and the director of their environmental group) said to me at the time:
…what is the fate of a tortoise, compared to the need to provide table grapes to Brisbane?
What indeed, I had to ask myself? After all, it is nothing more than a rather ugly looking reptile.
What possible moral or ethical dilemma could there be in making a decision not to proceed with a development simply because it might extinguish a species that had moved itself foolishly up an adaptive peak?
Clearly those who eventually made the decision to proceed were motivated by a much loftier sense of duty; the need to provide grapes to Brisbane.
I might also point out they were so motivated by that lofty moral position they had no qualms about changing what I had written in the Environmental Impact Assessment to tone down the quite legitimate concerns about the future of that species.
My point in raising this example, is that some here seem to imply that the fate of the Baiji might have been different if it had been Australians that were making the local decisions.
My personal experience suggests there would be no difference.