Protecting birds can be dangerous work

Updated:2018-10-11 09:10:50

Fu Jianguo bands a satellite tracker on an oriental white stork at the Zhalong National Nature Reserve in Heilongjiang province before releasing the bird into the wild on Aug 31. [Photo/Xinhua]

  Driving his old car along a path, Fu Jianguo started his daily work patrolling the Zhalong National Nature Reserve, where red-crowned cranes were stalking the reeds.

  The Zhalong reserve in northeastern China's Heilongjiang province serves as habitat for over 190 species of rare birds, and its red-crowned cranes and oriental white storks are closely monitored by Fu, 56, who is head of a wildlife protection association in Lindian county, which encompasses part of the reserve.

  He calls the birds in the vast marshland his children.

  With populations below 3,000 nationwide, red-crowned cranes and oriental white storks are listed as endangered species and are under first-class national protection.

  "My home was like a zoo in my childhood," Fu said, recalling the abundant wetland and bird life in the county in the past. To Fu, protecting local wildlife is a family tradition, as his father also took care of cranes and other wildlife for zoos before retirement.

  "My favorite thing was squatting down and observing them," he said.

  Fu started his wildlife protection career in 1984, at age 22, when he became a guide for a wildlife research institute.

  Protecting wildlife is by no means easy in Heilongjiang, where long, bitterly cold winters present major challenges to Fu during his fieldwork.

  Sometimes it means risking his own life. On a freezing winter day in 2014, Fu plowed his way through the frozen wetlands and found bird traps hidden in the snow. While rushing to remove them, he fell into an icy pit, and his clothes were frozen in just a minute.

  When conducting fieldwork a few days later, he fell from the roof of his car and injured himself. He was in shock and was rushed to an emergency room, where it took him over an hour to come around.

  While the cold weather is challenging and dangerous, cracking down on poachers poses even more of a threat.

  "A hunter put his gun to my head, ordering me to stop intervening," Fu said, recalling the most dangerous moment in his career about 23 years ago, when Fu and some police officers confiscated guns from poachers in the reserve after being informed by locals of illegal hunting.

  "I wasn't scared, because I believe evil never prevails over good," he said. Thanks to their quick response, no birds were harmed by the poachers.

  Facing so many difficult and dangerous situations, Fu once thought of giving up. However, those thoughts disappeared when he saw his beloved red-crowned cranes, oriental white storks and others birds living happily in their natural habitat.

  China has made notable progress in ecological protection in recent years, and NGOs with increasing numbers of volunteers are playing an important role.

  Fu and over 60 volunteers on his team have saved and set free hundreds of birds under State protection in the past 34 years. Now, his team receives up to 15 phone calls a day for help from wildlife protectors across the country.