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Weaving a Patchwork of Wildlife Protection
China Today
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Weaving a Patchwork of Wildlife Protection

On August 6, Zhou Guimei, a resident of Huangnan Village, Songyang County of Lishui City in east China’s Zhejiang Province, discovered a bird she had never seen before while washing clothes by the stream. According to her description, the bird had green claws, big eyes, a sharp beak, and white spots on its wings. Noticing that it could not stand up, she assumed it must be injured. Zhou contacted the village ranger immediately, and then carried the bird home. While waiting for the ranger, she fed the bird a fish, but it quickly spat the fish out.

Ye Weirong, the deputy Party secretary of Huangnan Village and also a forest ranger, reported the finding to Songyang County Forestry Department at once, and then took pictures of the bird and sent them to the forest patrol WeChat group. Professionals from the forestry department arrived in Huangnan Village that night and took the bird to a wildlife protection hospital for medical treatment. After close observation, experts identified the bird as an endangered species that is under first-class national protection, known as the white-eared night heron. Examination results showed that the bird was not injured after all, but rather had many stomach parasites causing it to not eat or be able to stand up. A few days later after treatment, the fully-recovered night heron was released back into the wild.

A Bird Paradise 

With an estimated population of only 1,000, the white-eared night heron is one of the world’s 30 most endangered bird species. These birds mainly live in river valleys that have quality water and a nice natural environment. Ye Weirong is very pleased to see a night heron because it means that Songyang’s ecological environment has been improving significantly.

People living in Songyang have a tradition of loving birds and wildlife. A prime example is Yuan Linwei’s family, who has been protecting owls for several generations.

“It was 1989, and I was only nine years old. One day as I was playing outside my house, I found an owl chick in a vacant lot,” said Yuan. He still recalls how he and his grandfather took the chick back to the nest together. Ever since then, every year at the end of February, a pair of owls appear in Yuan’s house, and four months later they fly away with three or four newborn chicks. Now, Yuan Linwei is over 40, and over the last 30 years, his family has always lived in the same old house made of yellow clay. They never relocated or renovated their house, to ensure that generations of owl “tenants” can lay their eggs, then hatch and brood them in the attic of the house. So far, a total of more than 100 baby owls have been born and raised in Yuan’s family house and then returned back into the wild. Later, he learned that this owl species is collared scops-owl (Otus lettia), and it is under second-class national protection.

Songyang’s improved ecological environment has attracted more and more wild animals to settle down there, making it a real “bird paradise.” Since 2010, every winter, tscaly-sided mergansers (Mergus squamatus) fly into Songyang to spend the winter. In May this year around the International Biodiversity Day, Songyang organized the fourth Lishui Birdwatching International Invitational Competition. Thirty teams from China and abroad recorded a total of 228 species of birds in two days, setting a new record for the competition, compared with 133, 165, and 195 different species observed during the first, second, and third competition respectively.

“For many people, bird watching is more than a hobby. Observing and recording birds and carrying out educational campaigns on birds have become a responsibility for those who care about nature,” President of Lishui City Bird Ecological Protection Association Xie Wei pointed out.

A General Consensus

As a result of the extensive public participation in bird watching and protection in Songyang, its ecological story has gone viral on the Internet, and the owls living in Yuan Linwei’s house have now become celebrities. In May 2020, the TikTok account of Lishui City Radio and Television Station livestreamed the lives of these owl stars 24 hours a day. This attracted hundreds of thousands of fans to watch the mother owl raise her chicks as a result.

“Owl-related videos have now reached more than 300 million views. Many netizens said they would take a look at what the owls were doing before going to work in the morning, and then download the video to watch it again at night after work. Engineer of Songyang County Natural Resources and Planning Bureau Chai Songwei recalled a special experience, saying “Late one night, my phone rang non-stop, and countless calls came in claiming that the owl was stuck in the attic’s exit.” Chai hurriedly contacted Yuan Linwei to verify the situation. It turned out that a large rat which the owl had caught got stuck when the owl was entering the attic inlet. How happy and relieved the the vast number of worried online fans were when they learned the whole story.

In December 2022, during the second phase of The 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15) in Montreal, Canada, the story of Yuan's owls touched everyone when it was told during the Zhejiang Theme Day at the China Corner.

“In Songyang, protecting wildlife has become a common consensus,” said Zhou Dongmei, Party secretary of Huangnan Village, when speaking to China Today. Wildlife protection-related concepts and relevent knowledge are broadcast through the village’s radio every day to help constantly increase villagers’ awareness of wildlife conservation. There are also a number of signs placed along the road that remind tourists to protect wild animals.

Institutional Guarantee 

In recent years, the local government has continued to explore feasible measures to protect wildlife and establish protection mechanisms that can efficiently protect Songyang’s rich wildlife resources. Ye told reporters that each village in the county has two forest rangers responsible for conducting regular patrols and combating poaching; there is also a “forest chief” to ensure the protection of endangered wild species.

“In 2017, the logging approval right of Huangnan Village was retracted by the county government in an effort to protect vegetation. At the same time, special actions such as the removal of old-fashioned dry toilets and waste sorting have also taken place,” Ye said. As a result of these measures, the village’s water quality and environment have been improved, and rare wildlife resources have increased.

 During the first half of 2023, Songyang County Natural Resources and Planning Bureau installed four dome cameras in the main activity sites of the scaly-sided merganser’s wintering habitat, and installed 13 infrared monitors at suitable locations. At the same time, it arranged personnel to collect data along specified routes to provide assistance to wildlife in need of rescue. During the first half of 2023, the mileage covered by the patrol reached 121.9 kilometers, and more than 13,000 birds of 22 species were monitored, and no wildlife anomalies were found.

With the rapid recovery of wildlife resources, wildlife damage to crops and attacks on humans still occur from time to time. For this reason, the local government is striving to reach a balance between protecting wildlife and safeguarding the rights and interests of the public, and has established a wildlife damage relief mechanism. At the same time, Songyang also introduced a commercial insurance program for wildlife damage compensation. In March 2021, the county government created a fund of RMB 280,000 (US $38,348) to insure public liability insurance for wildlife accidents. The insurance provides necessary compensation for people who suffer personal injuries or property damage caused by wildlife.

China TodayGu Yetao

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