The critically endangered Yangtze finless porpoise needs all the help it can get. Its population has fallen to just 1,040 and is continuing to decline at an alarming rate. Without effective action, it could be extinct within a decade. But its chances of surviving have now been given a major boost.

On October 24th 2014, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture marked River Dolphin Day by granting the Yangtze finless porpoise 'National First Grade Key Protected Wild Animal' status – the highest level of protection under Chinese law. The ministry will now have greater powers to control illegal fishing, protect key habitats, and inspect finless porpoise protection projects along the lower and middle sections of the Yangtze River.

Since 2002, WWF has been collaborating with the Institute of Hydrobiology to conserve the Yangtze finless porpoise and its habitats. And over the past four years, WWF has also been working hard to raise awareness about the plight of the porpoise – helping to create a growing wave of public concern that contributed to the government's decision.

However, despite its new status, the finless porpoise still faces a number of serious threats, including dam construction, shipping, illegal fishing and dredging. And these threats could escalate in the coming years due to the government's Yangtze River economic belt development plan, which will result in even more intense human activity along the river and around the basin's major lakes.

The new classification is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to save the finless porpoise. The next critical step is the release of the 'Yangtze Finless Porpoise Protection Action Plan', which will promote greater cooperation between key departments, such as water conservancy, shipping and water lane programming, and ensure that the potential impact of any decision on the porpoise population is taken into consideration.

But merely protecting the species' current habitat will not be enough. So WWF will continue to push for the creation of new reserves to expand its range and allow the Yangtze finless porpoise to thrive.