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China races to rescue rare 'smiling angel' of Asia's longest river

By He Leijing and Chu Yi | China Daily | Updated: 2020-01-06 09:24
A Yangtze finless porpoise frolics in the river in Yichang, Hubei province, in April 2018. LIU SHUSONG/FOR CHINA DAILY

NANJING-Along the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, a slick black back briefly arches above the silvery surface as one of the world's most endangered animals emerges, gulping for air.

Glimpses of the Yangtze finless porpoise are taken by many Chinese as a good omen since the aquatic mammal is critically endangered, being even rarer than the giant panda, the country's poster child for species conservation.

The latest research on the species released by the Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Affairs in 2018 showed there was a wild population of just 1,012 still navigating the twists and turns of the longest river in Asia.

After its more-storied cousin, the baiji dolphin, was declared "functionally extinct" in 2007 in the same waters, the finless porpoise is believed to be the Yangtze's last surviving mammal, said Jiang Meng, secretary-general of the Nanjing Yangtze Finless Porpoise Conservation Association.

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