Global EditionASIA 中文双语Français
China Daily Global / 2021-05 / 21 / Page016

Cherished rare birds protected in Hanzhong

By WANG JINHUI | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-05-21 00:00

Region exerts over 40 years' efforts in preservation, artificial breeding, research

There is a place where nature abounds with the fresh fragrance of grass and soil, crisscrossed mountainous roads intersecting dense camphor trees, bubbling creeks scattered with rocks, moss and tadpoles and the sound of birdsong.

This is the village of Yaojiagou in Yangxian county in Hanzhong, Shaanxi province. Forty years ago, it was the habitat for the world's last seven existing crested ibises. Today, it has become a model of the harmony between humans and wildlife.

With a history of 60 million years, crested ibises are one of the oldest species of bird on Earth and an endangered bird in the world today. They were once widespread in Russia, the Korean Peninsula, Japan and China, but they began to disappear in the 1960s due to pollution and other human activities.

Known as "the oriental gem" and "birds of love", crested ibises, with their unique white plumage, graceful posture, iconic red crest and long black beak, were thought to be extinct in China until seven wild birds were found in Yangxian on May 23, 1981 by Liu Yinzeng, a former researcher at the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Liu and his team had traveled 50,000 kilometers around China, searching for the birds in 14 provinces for more than three years. On a third expedition to Yangxian, their determination was rewarded.

"That night, I saw a crested ibis fly across the sky. We immediately ran after it and found four adult crested ibises and three fluffy chicks in the woods," Liu said.

The team found seven crested ibises, possibly the only wild crested ibises living in the world at that time, marking the start of China's protection campaign.

Over the past 40 years, Yangxian has increased its population of crested ibises from seven to more than 5,000, strengthened research on rescue and artificial breeding and embarked on a sustainable path to create a balance between the economy and ecology.

Zhang Yueming, an expert who works at the crested ibis nature reserve bureau in Yangxian, said China's protection of crested ibises is a paragon in the world's history of preserving endangered wildlife.

"The secret for the rare and inspirational case of successfully saving crested ibises from a small population is the country's onsite protection approach adopted at the very beginning," he said.

"That is different from Japan's approach of artificial reproduction, when it captured what were thought to be the last five wild crested ibises in 1981 and failed to keep them alive," he added.

On the fourth day after the discovery, the Yangxian government issued a series of emergency notices on protecting crested ibises, which prohibited local residents from hunting, cutting down trees, setting off explosives in the mountains, or using fertilizers in the birds' foraging areas to preserve natural wetlands and winter paddy fields. The main habitat of crested ibises was thusly protected.

Later, Yangxian established the Qinling No 1 protection station and sent four people to guard the seven birds in Yaojiagou.

"The approach was to look after them for 24 hours day and night," Zhang said.

"In the day time, they observed and recorded the birds' habits and characteristics; at night, the main job was to keep them safe."

During the breeding period from March to June, the guardians set up observation sheds under each nest to prevent crested ibises' natural enemies such as snakes and weasels from creeping up through methods such as painting and putting up umbrella-shaped iron sheets on the tree trucks.

Nylon nets were also hung under the tree to protect young birds if they fell out of their nests.

Zhang said another major protection measure at that time was feeding crested ibises with fresh loaches especially when there was harsh weather such as drought and extreme cold.

"The reproduction of the crested ibises has a close relationship with food and the method had increased the rate of successful reproduction by 6 percent," he said, adding that the government had signed agreements with local farmers to stop using fertilizers in the farmland to ensure the safety of microorganisms, loaches and other food for the crested ibises.

People also play a vital role in the protection of the crested ibises, Zhang added.

"Three key factors for the crested ibises' survival are farmland, big trees and people. When there are people, there are crested ibises, as farmlands account for some 80 percent of the birds' source of food."

Now, more than 90 percent of crested ibises' activities such as making nests, sickness and injuries are reported by local people.

Zhang Xumin contributed to this story.


Clockwise from left: A flock of crested ibises fly over rice paddies in Hanzhong, Shaanxi province. An adult bird feeds her babies in the nest. Staff members feed a newborn crested ibis at a rescure and breeding center in Hanzhong. ZHANG YUEMING/FOR CHINA DAILY



Most Viewed

Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349