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The birth of hope

Updated: 2013-12-21 23:50
By Deng Zhangyu ( China Daily)

The birth of hope

In the summer of 2008, a severe drought hit the area, and a rescue program for the porpoises at the Tian’ezhou oxbow reserve was initiated. Gao Baoyan / for China Daily

The first pregnancy of a wild Yangtze finless porpoise paired with a mate by humans heralds opportunities to save the critically endangered species. Deng Zhangyu reports in Shishou, Hubei province.

Tiantian's snout ruptures the still waters of the Tian'ezhou oxbow natural reserve.

The 7-year-old finless porpoise snaps a fistful of minnows from his feeder's hand and jets through the water to deliver the meal to his pregnant mate.

Tiantian's "wife" E'e became the first of her subspecies, N. p. asiaorientalis, to become pregnant in captivity in April. She'll give birth in about half a year.

"Porpoise mates argue like human couples," feeder Ding Zeliang says.

"But (since the pregnancy), they often feed each other."

The mates live with an estimated 35 other river porpoises at the reserve in Shishou, Hubei province. About 21 kilometers of river in the reserve are closed to the public to protect the fetus.

Ding says the porpoises enjoy "playing" with people. They jump out of the water to check out passersby. That behavior presents a miscarriage threat for E'e.

The species is among the most intelligent and is comparable to guerrillas in aptitude, porpoise expert Wang Ding says.

"They're very bright," feeder Ding says.

"They're like my babies."

The 46-year-old father of two adult daughters has spent every day of the past five years caring for the porpoises as if they were his children, he says.

He's excited about becoming a "grandfather".

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