HEFEI - While preparing meals for the finless porpoises of the Yangtze River, Zhang Bajin carefully picks out a small fish.
"This kind of fish would get stuck in the porpoise's throat," he said, adding that the porpoises are big eaters, they can eat more than 10 percent of their own body weight in fish every day.
For over 30 years, Zhang has been caring for the critically endangered animals. He sees the porpoises as his own children.
With a slightly curved mouth, the finless porpoise is often called the "smiling angel" of the Yangtze by Chinese. However, the population has been rapidly decreasing over the last three decades due to environmental deterioration. The species now teeters on the brink of extinction with a population of around 1,000 in the main waterway of the Yangtze, according to research conducted in 2012.
Zhang is among a team of 20 people at the Tongling Freshwater Dolphins National Nat[MG_SEO]ure Reserve in east China's Anhui Province. Established in 2000, the reserve enclosed a corner of the Yangtze creating an ideal habitat for the porpoises.
Jiang Wenhua, chief engineer and one of the founders of the reserve, recalled they caught four finless porpoises in the Yangtze in 2001, two males and two females, and brought them in the reserve.
After 17 years, there are now 11 porpoises in the reserve, the youngest born in May this year, he added.