Page last updated at 16:32 GMT, Thursday, 8 January 2009

HK returns sick sturgeon to China

Mascots for the 2008 Beijing Olympics
The Chinese sturgeon represented the five Olympic mascots

A Hong Kong aquatic park is to return two ailing rare sturgeon to mainland China for treatment after the death of three others - all gifts from Beijing.

The endangered fish will be moved from Ocean Park to a Chinese research centre where experts will try to save them.

It is unclear whether the fish would return to Hong Kong if revived.

Hong Kong was given the five sturgeon last year as a present to mark China's hosting of the Olympic Games. Each fish represented one of the Olympic mascots.

Chinese sturgeon are protected by the government which regards the breed, in the same way as the panda, as a national treasure.

Extinction threat

Within days of their arrival in June, one fish was killed by a barracuda.

Beijing then sent five more sturgeon, following an apology from Hong Kong's leader and extra advice from Chinese officials on how to care for the fish.

Despite this, in December, a second fish died from an infection, followed by a third weeks later from a injury, leaving seven.

The two sick fish, which are both nine years old and measure 2.3m and 1.5m, will be transported overland to the Yangtze River Fisheries Research Institute on Friday, an Ocean Park spokesman said.

The Chinese sturgeon, one of the world's largest freshwater fish, is threatened with extinction in China's Yangtze River, where only 1,000 are thought to survive.

The research institute, of the Chinese Academy of Fisheries Sciences, is charged with breeding sturgeons in captivity in an attempt to restore the dwindling river population.

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