Rare species thrive in China through enhanced biodiversity conservation
Building a shared future for all life, the theme of the International Day for Biological Diversity 2022 that fell on Sunday, is a true portrayal of what China has been working on over the years.
Boasting rich biological resources, China has put biodiversity conservation high on its agenda. An increasing number of rare animals have been more frequently spotted in the country's vast territory, demonstrating China's endeavor in reversing species loss and achieving harmony between mankind and nature.
Restoring Natural Habitats
On a bright day in late April, several yellow-breasted buntings stopped at a wetland in Chaohu Lake, the fifth-largest freshwater lake in the eastern province of Anhui. Hu Wenxiang, a shutterbug visiting the wetland, captured the scene with his camera.
"I've never seen a bird like this before," said Hu, who later shared the photos in a WeChat group for bird lovers and researchers. He was surprised to learn that the feathery visitors were a first-class protected species in China and listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
In recent years, Hefei City, where Chaohu Lake is located, has taken a slew of measures to strengthen the protection of 10 major wetlands around the lake, including banning fishing, land reclamation and waste dumping in designated protected zones.
A number of rarely seen birds, such as Asian dowitchers, grey plovers, and Siberian rubythroats, have been spotted lately in the lake area as the environment improves, according to Yu Lei, vice president of the rare bird protection workers' federation of Anhui.
In Chizhou City of Anhui, electrical workers are innovating ways to protect birds' nests on power towers. Instead of removing them all – which was previously common practice, the workers first judge if they pose any safety threat depending on their location.
"If they risk causing fires, power outages or death of birds, we will relocate the nests to a safer place nearby. Otherwise, we just leave them there intact," said Wang Shi, a local power grid worker who founded a birds' nests protection campaign in April.
Based on years of research on birds' habits, Wang analyzed the nesting and breeding of birds and put forward countermeasures such as setting up signs or installing artificial eagles.
"It's remarkable progress to protect the birds and the power grid at the same time to achieve a harmonious coexistence," said Guo Yumin, a professor from Beijing Forestry University.
To restore biodiversity along the Yangtze River, the longest river in Asia, China implemented a 10-year fishing ban in the river's pivotal waters starting on January 1, 2021, after 332 conservation areas along the river enforced the fishing ban at the beginning of 2020.
Many ex-fishermen hung up their fishing nets and became patrollers on the river, cleaning up garbage and stopping illegal fishing activities. As a result, the appearance of finless porpoises, which had almost gone extinct in the Yangtze River, has been reported in the provinces of Hubei, Jiangxi, Anhui and Jiangsu, all situated along the river.
"We've seen finless porpoises several times this year, and sometimes we can see five to six of them together," said Hu Shibin, leader of a finless porpoise protection team in Anqing City, Anhui. "It shows that the fishing ban has indeed contributed to the improvement of the environment of the Yangtze River."
Breeding Endangered Species
Located on the southwestern edge of the Tengger Desert, the Endangered Animal Protection Center of northwest China's Gansu Province was established in 1987, aiming to rebuild wild populations of endangered species.
In 1988, 12 saigas, a critically endangered antelope, were introduced from Russia, the United States, and Germany and brought into the center. The animal originally inhabited a vast area of the Eurasian steppe but was considered extinct in the wild in China at that time.
Considering saigas' timid disposition, sensitivity to stress and short lifespan, the protection center built a 30-hectare fenced field for them, in which alfalfa was widely planted for grazing. The semi-wild environment with less human activities and interference from other animals offers the saigas an ideal environment to live and reproduce.
As the only artificial breeding base for saigas in China, the protection center is currently home to 19 adult saigas, with the oldest being five years old, according to Zhang Qiangwei, director of the protection center.
"Twelve baby saigas were born earlier this month. We are closely monitoring their physical conditions and will help them grow up healthy and strong," said Zhang.
On-and-off infectious disease outbreaks among the antelopes have posed more challenges to breeding. In recent years, the protection center has carried out joint research with experts from institutions nationwide on disease prevention, vaccination as well as more effective ways to expand the species' population.
Meanwhile, researchers here have never given up on releasing these wild animals back into nature. In 2012, after a thorough evaluation of the saigas' conditions, researchers conducted a simulated release of saigas into a semi-wild area of about 100 hectares to test their resilience.
"There was only one watering place in that area. In the beginning, for more than 20 days, the saigas went there drinking only once. Later they began to eat whatever was available, like wild grass," recalled Zhang, adding that the experiment made them more confident about the future of the species.
Another IUCN-listed critically endangered species bred in the protection center is Bactrian camels. The total population of mature individuals of the species was around 950 worldwide in 2008, according to the website of the IUCN.
In the 1990s, eight Bactrian camel calves were rescued from northwestern Gansu and the border area between China and Mongolia for artificial breeding in the protection center, and their number has grown to 26 here, according to Zhou Yingjie, deputy director of the protection center.
In September 2012, the protection center released two Bactrian camels into the wild. Both have been in good condition as shown in follow-up tracking and monitoring.
Zhou said the protection center serves as "a temporary home" for these endangered species because the ultimate goal of breeding them is to help them return to where they originally belonged.
"It feels like raising children – we wish them to grow up but are also afraid of the eventual separation," said Zhou.
"We hope that through the efforts of generations of animal protectors, all endangered species can return to their natural habitats, live in peace and thrive," he added.