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Cover Stories Series 2014> Stopping Illegal Wildlife Trade> Archives
UPDATED: December 17, 2012 NO. 51 DECEMBER 20, 2012
Safe Stopovers for Birds
Lack of regular migrating bird protection causes rampant poaching
By Li Li

In China, forestry authorities are responsible for wild animal protection. However, according to Li's documentary, local forestry authorities didn't take any action to stop poachers until Li reported their activities to the local police.

Speaking at a national work conference on October 30, Yin Hong, Deputy Chief Administrator of the State Forestry Administration, said that many local forestry authorities still have no information on the routes for migratory birds in areas under their jurisdiction and have not taken any measure to prevent poaching.

Yin pointed out that some local governments fail to establish teams of rangers. "When local governments are forced to take action under pressure from media exposure, it is usually too late and the environmental damage is irreversible," she said.

The State Forestry Administration has sent teams of inspectors to various regions to ensure the safety of migrating birds until spring next year.

Local governments are yet to coordinate different departments' efforts to combat poaching of birds, as law enforcement departments and industrial and commercial regulators are in charge of wiping out the trade in wild animals.

Lei Weifan, a volunteer protector of birds, said that China badly needs to update its list of wild animals under state protection. Mostly unchanged since 1988, the list neglects the critically endangered spoon-billed sandpiper and oriental stork.

Whole-route protection

At the end of October, more than 30 organizations of Chinese bird lovers issued a joint public letter calling for the establishment of protected areas along the birds' migration. In the letter, they wrote that China should use its experience in establishing and managing nature reserves for migratory birds to breed and winter, and intensify the protection of their flyways.

Xie Yan, a senior research fellow with the Institute of Zoology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, supports the suggestion of the public letter. "We need a long-term management mechanism on the protection of migration pathways of birds. The current situation under which people only discuss the problem when a scandal arises is not sustainable," Xie told newspaper Economic Information Daily.

Kang Dahu, a volunteer bird protector who participated in rescuing the oriental storks poisoned in Tianjin, told China Youth Daily that China should immediately set up a wildlife rescue system with full-time rescuers standing by. He said that the effective rescue of poisoned oriental storks in Tianjin was the result of quick reactions and close cooperation between government departments and volunteers, which should be more broadly instituted.

According to a report of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources released in 2011, waterfowl that depend on the Asian intertidal habitats of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway during their non-breeding season were the world's most endangered migratory birds, apart from albatrosses and petrels.

At least 24 such species were heading toward extinction, with many others facing exceptionally rapid losses of 5 to 9 percent per year. With declines of 26 percent per year, the spoon-billed sandpiper could be extinct within a decade.

The report said that rapid land reclamation of Asian tidal flats is driving many water birds toward extinction. The report identified 16 key areas along the flyway, with six of these in China's Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea as well as northern parts of the East China Sea. Remote sensing and geographical information system analyses show losses of 35 percent since the early 1980s across intertidal habitats in the six key areas. Losses of such magnitude are likely the key drivers of declines in biodiversity and ecosystem services in the intertidal zone of the region, according to the report.

Statistics from the State Forestry Administration indicate the total area of China's natural and semi-natural wetlands accounts for only 3.77 percent of China's territory, way below the 6 percent of the world's average level, and its decline shows no sign of stopping.

Lei said that China should intensify conservation efforts at important stopover points along the migratory routes, such as the Beidagang Wetland Nature Reserve. According to him, when zoologists advocated establishing nature reserves around the country to maintain China's diverse wildlife many years ago, they overlooked the protection of birds along their migration pathways, which should be added to the overall plan immediately.

Although Chinese scientists called on the government to enact a wetland protection law as early as 2006, the long-awaited law is still being drafted. "The government encourages the development of the wetlands for aquaculture, which has met almost no objection due to its expected role in boosting the economy. However, if mass areas of wetlands are eliminated, as a result, birds will have no place to live," Jiang Yong, a Hunan-based project manager of the World Wide Fund for Nature, told Economic Information Daily.

Email us at: lili@bjreview.com

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