Alibaba Takes Action To Stop The Sale Of Wild Birds On Taobao

After the outcry from birders, conservationists and members of the public about the illegal sale of ‘critically endangered’ YELLOW-BREASTED BUNTINGS on Taobao (Alibaba’s online sales platform), it was good to receive a call from Alibaba on Friday.  The official was ‘horrified’ to see the social media posts, confirmed the link had already been taken down and that a review of procedures was underway.

We discussed the scale of wild birds and poaching equipment for sale on Taobao and the fact that it was illegal to trap ANY wild bird in China without a license.  I was invited to send any links of concern and the company would ensure they were investigated.

After some fast work by some Beijing birders, I sent to the company more than 100 links, almost certainly the tip of the iceberg, where sellers were offering wild birds, traps or mist nets.  I await their response.

Alibaba now has a chance to show that they genuinely care about stopping the illegal wildlife trade and to demonstrate the company’s policy is consistent with the public statements by their Chairman, Jack Ma, President Xi Jinping’s vision of a “Beautiful China” and, most importantly, the law.

On the latter point, whilst selling wild birds is clearly illegal, the sale of mist nets and traps to catch birds appears to be a grey area.  Nevertheless, it seems to me the reputational benefit of banning the sale of these items on their platform will significantly outweigh any negligible loss of revenue.

Rest assured Beijing birders will be checking regularly to see whether the links provided to Alibaba have been removed and we’ll report on progress – good or bad – via this website.  In the meantime, if you find any links of sellers offering wild birds or trapping equipment on Taobao, please contact me and I’ll ensure they are passed on to the company.

 

Title image: a caged Yellow-breasted Bunting being used as a lure.

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Critically Endangered YELLOW-BREASTED BUNTINGS for sale online in China

It’s been a bad week for Yellow-breasted Bunting.

First, this beautiful songbird, once super-abundant across its range from northern Europe in the west to Japan in the east, has been classified as “Critically Endangered” on the 2017 IUCN Red List.  This is the most endangered category and means that Yellow-breasted Bunting is just one step away from extinction.

And second, thanks to eagle-eyed Beijing birders, we’ve learned that, for around CNY 100-220 (GBP 12 to 25) per bird, it’s possible to buy live Yellow-breasted Buntings on Taobao, China’s version of eBay/Amazon (this link is still live at the time of publication).

The first piece of news is desperately sad, if not unexpected.  The plight of the Yellow-breasted Bunting has been well-documented (for example, here and here) in conservation circles.  In short, over the last two to three decades, the population has suffered a catastrophic decline of up to 95 per cent, with the main cause thought to be illegal trapping for food in China.  Parallels have been drawn with the extinction of the once abundant Passenger Pigeon in North America, the last of which died in Cincinnati Zoo in 1914 after the wild population was driven to extinction by a combination of hunting and habitat loss.

Conservationists in Asia, led by Hong Kong Birdwatching Society and supported by BirdLife International, are doing their best to help this ailing species through a combination of scientific studies and awareness campaigns, including distribution of the poster below and the production of ‘Yellow-breasted Bunting-friendly’ rice in Hong Kong’s Long Valley, a wintering site for the species.

The poster distributed by Hong Kong Birdwatching Society in south China – the main source of demand for Yellow-breasted Bunting as food.

It’s the second piece of news that is shocking and disgusting.

Yellow-breasted Bunting is not easily bred in captivity and the birds for sale are almost certainly of wild origin.  In China it is illegal to trap any wild bird without a license, only issued for scientific purposes.  It is extremely unlikely the sellers have trapped these birds legally and, in the unlikely event they have a licence, the sellers are clearly abusing the terms under which that license was issued.

Taobao, often described as China’s Ebay or Amazon, is part of the Alibaba Group founded by Ma Yun (known as Jack Ma).  He is one of China’s richest men, in fact one of the wealthiest people in Asia.  According to Bloomberg, he has a net worth of USD 44.9 billion as of December 2017.

What makes the sale of almost extinct wildlife on his platform all the more galling is that Jack Ma has made many public statements and commitments about not selling wildlife products.  In 2014, after bowing to public pressure, Alibaba made a commitment to “abide by national laws and regulations to remove all illegal wildlife information from our platform“.  And The China Daily reported that Alibaba, together with other online sales platforms  “..vowed to enable no advertising or trade in illegal wildlife and its products on their platforms and said they would voluntarily accept supervision from the society and government.

On top of that Jack Ma has, not surprisingly given his wealth, been courted by the big conservation NGOs.  In 2009 he became a trustee of The Nature Conservancy’s China program and, in April 2010, joined its global board of directors.  In 2013, he became chairman of the board for The Nature Conservancy’s China Program.  It surely undermines TNC’s reputation and credibility on wildlife conservation if members of their board facilitate the sale of critically endangered wildlife.

I am of the belief that, when discovering issues such as this, it is better to engage privately at first, highlighting the problem and allowing the company, which may not be aware of the illegal nature of the sales, to have a chance to fix it before going public.  Of course it must be extremely difficult to monitor everything for sale on a large online platform such as Taobao.  To do so needs capacity and specialist knowledge; these things take time to develop and, given the rapid growth of the business, it’s not surprising that oversight capacity has been slow to keep up.

However, it is now several years since Alibaba first courted controversy for selling illegal wildlife products and sadly it appears that “voluntarily accepting supervision from society and government”, as committed by Alibaba in 2014, are hollow words.

Back in December 2015 Birding Beijing alerted Alibaba to several sellers offering migrant birds for sale including Mongolian and Black Larks.  After an acknowledgement of our correspondence, we subsequently received a reply to say that, as we could not prove these birds were captured in the wild, it was not illegal to sell them.  So, according to Alibaba, there was no onus on them to ensure the products sold on their platform are legal.  A disappointing response.

On hearing about sellers offering Yellow-breasted Buntings for sale, we once again contacted Alibaba to inform them of this illegal activity on their site.  This time we received no reply at all after 10 days.

It is therefore with reluctance that I am writing this article to publicise the fact that Alibaba is selling almost extinct wildlife on its platform and doesn’t appear to care.

What is even more shocking about this latest episode is that it flies in the face of President Xi Jinping’s vision of a “Beautiful China”.  The speech President Xi delivered to the 19th Communist Party Congress in October 2017 is widely seen as the guiding light for government and society in China and is quoted in almost all meetings with government officials.  Some relevant extracts from the speech are below:

“We must pursue a model of sustainable development featuring increased
production, higher living standards, and healthy ecosystems. We must continue
the Beautiful China initiative to create good working and living environments for
our people and play our part in ensuring global ecological security.”

“We will establish an environmental governance system in which government takes the lead, enterprises assume main responsibility, and social organizations and the public also participate.”

“We will take tough steps to stop and punish all activities that damage the environment.”

Alibaba’s facilitation of the illegal wildlife trade is clearly inconsistent with all three of these statements.

The amount of money Taobao makes from selling items such as this must be tiny in the context of their overall business.  Wouldn’t it make sense, for the sake of their reputation, to ban the sales of any wildlife, whether it’s clearly illegal or if there is any doubt?  The cost would be negligible and the benefits to their image considerable.

Only then will they be able to claim that they care about wildlife and only then will their business be consistent with Xi Jinping’s vision for a modern “Beautiful China”.  If Alibaba’s leader is going to make big commitments, it is wise to ensure he or she can live up to them. I hope someone from Alibaba can comment.

The Yellow-breasted Bunting is one of the most beautiful songbirds in China; it’s a feature of spring and autumn in Beijing and as recently as September, I was fortunate to see one on the patch of scrub close to my apartment in Shunyi.  It’s decline towards extinction may yet be irreversible.  However, with the efforts of conservationists in China and other parts of east Asia, supported by people from all over the world, it has a chance.  It would be tragic if these efforts are undermined by the selfish and irresponsible attitude of Alibaba.

UPDATE: on the morning of 8 December we received a call from a representative of Alibaba.  The representative said Taobao was ‘horrified’ to see the social media posts about Yellow-breasted Buntings for sale and, in response to the article, removed the seller’s page and other similar posts.  The representative also said the company was reviewing its procedures to try to improve their success rate at spotting sellers offering wild birds.  They would be happy to receive links of any posts of concern and would deal with them appropriately.  Additionally, they committed to passing on the details of sellers of wild birds to the police.  Comment: This is a positive response but, of course, the proof is in the pudding.  We have a long list of links showing wild birds for sale and we’ll be regularly monitoring Taobao to ensure there is an improvement.  

Title image: screenshot of the page on Taobao selling Yellow-breasted Buntings (taken 7 December 2017).

Guangxi’s “I SEE” Biodiversity Festival

One of the most encouraging signs for the future of China’s biodiversity is the emergence of local organisations across the country dedicated to environmental education and wildlife protection.  And almost without exception these organisations are being run by groups of passionate, dedicated and highly educated young people.

Last weekend I was invited to participate in the “I SEE” celebration of biodiversity in the city of Beihai in Guangxi (广西) Autonomous Region.

Located in mountainous terrain in the far south, Guangxi is bordered by Yunnan Province to the west, Guizhou to the north, Hunan to the northeast, Guangdong to the east and Vietnam to the southwest.  With a sub-tropical climate and magnificent scenery, dominated by spectacular karst mountains, Guangxi is perhaps most famous for the picturesque tourist towns of Guilin and Yangshuo, through which the Li river slowly meanders.

Ornithologically, Guangxi cemented its place on the map with the recent (2005) discovery of a new species – the Nonggang Babbler – by Chinese ornithologists Zhou Fang and Jiang Aiwu.  Less well-known, at least outside China, is that every autumn Guangxi plays host to a spectacular migration or raptors. In October and early November, large numbers can be seen following the mountains as they make their way from China towards southeast Asia.

It is this concentration of birds that attracts not only local birders and photographers but also poachers.  Every autumn the mountains around Beihai are tainted by the sound of gunshots.  Illegal hunting was one of the drivers for the creation of the Guangxi Biodiversity Research and Conservation Association, known as BRC.  This small, but growing, organisation was behind the establishment of an annual raptor watching festival during which birders and interested members of the public descend on the area to watch and count raptors.

The festival is inspiring change.  First, it’s helping to raise awareness among local people about, and connecting people with, the spectacular bird of prey migration in the region. And second, it’s acting as a big deterrent to the poachers; it’s now the norm for the guns to fall silent during the festival.  Sadly, the guns can still be heard before, and after, the festival despite a recent documentary on Chinese State Television exposing the illegal manufacture and use of guns.  However, BRC is clearly making a difference and the direction of travel is in the right direction.  I can’t wait to visit next October to offer my support to the volunteers.

BRC’s “I SEE” biodiversity day was the latest in a string of events designed to engage the public and I was honoured to take my place in the line up of speakers addressing 300 schoolchildren alongside their parents and teachers at the public library in Beihai on Saturday morning.

The stories of the Beijing Swifts and Cuckoos were greeted enthusiastically and there was clearly an appetite to explore similar ‘citizen science’ projects in Guangxi to complement the ongoing public engagement work.

It was brilliant to see so many local people participating in an event dedicated to biodiversity in a part of China that is so rich in wildlife and yet suffering from illegal poaching.  It’s these young heroes that will consign illegal hunting to history.

I have huge admiration for BRC’s Tao Jingru, Zhao Hongxu, Xiao Xiaobo and Lin Wuying for inspiring so many people and big thanks for the wonderful hospitality.

 

Title image: The BRC stand at the Xishuangbanna Birding Festival in Yunnan Province.

The 6th Xishuangbanna Birding Festival

As birding becomes more popular in China, birding festivals are springing up all over this vast country. There are now annual festivals in Dalian (Liaoning), Beidagang (Hebei), Beihai (Guangxi) and Shangri-La (Yunnan) to name just a few… and they are providing a focus for both experienced and young birders to celebrate their hobby, learn from like-minded people, recruit new members and engage the public.  It’s always a privilege to be able to participate in these celebrations and I was delighted to accept an invitation to speak at the 6th birding festival of the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens (XTBG), nestled in a wonderful part of southwest Yunnan Province, close to the borders with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

Founded in 1959 and covering an area of 1125 hectares, the Botanical Gardens employ more than 300 staff.  Wang Ximin leads an enthusiastic team responsible for engaging schools and the local community about wildlife and habitats.  His work is particularly important given the significant problem with illegal hunting that still blights the area (during the festival, several of the participants heard gunshots in the forest close to the gardens).  Influencing the local communities is not easy, and it won’t happen overnight, but working with children must surely be the most effective way to tackle the issue over the medium- to long-term.

One of the species Wang Ximin and his colleagues focus on is the Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus), now classified as “Endangered” given the spectacular decline in the population over the last two decades.  Closely related to the more familiar Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus), Green Peafowl is a stunningly beautiful bird, once ranging from SW China and Myanmar through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, to as far south as Java, but which has suffered from hunting pressure and habitat loss meaning that it’s range now consists of ever-shrinking isolated pockets of suitable habitat.  Thankfully, according to the locals, it doesn’t taste good.. so at least it’s not popular to eat!

A Green Peafowl made from leaves by birders from YuXi Birdwatching Society.  Photo by Gu Bojian.

We were treated to an informative talk about the Green Peafowl by Gu Bojian, attended by students, teachers and parents from local schools.

As well as lectures and a bird race involving teams from all over China, from Beijing to Shanghai to Guangzhou to Yunnan, there were stalls operated by birding organisations, optics companies and nature-related publications such as China Bird Watch.

Maybe it’s because I am getting older but I am always struck by just how many young people participate in these events..  It’s heartening to see the youth of China enjoying and celebrating wild birds and their habitats.   And this energy is being channelled into developing resources that help to engage the wider community.  During my brief visit, Wang Ximin and his colleagues launched a new book about the birds of the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens and handed out leaflets about the butterflies, insects and plants that can be found there.  All of this is wonderful to see.

Terry and Wang Ximin tell the story of the Beijing Cuckoos (which pass through Yunnan Province) to local schoolchildren.

More than 100 species of bird were recorded during the festival with highlights being Asian Openbill, Brown-throated Sunbird, Orange-breasted Trogon, Limestone Babbler and Pied Falconet.  And there were some sightings of some other cool wildlife including this Tokay Gecko, scientific name “Gekko gecko”.

Tokay Gecko (Gekko gecko). Photo by Zhao Jiangbo.

With a good quality hotel (Royal Waterlily) in the gardens and beautiful surroundings, XTBG is a wonderful place to spend a few days to escape the cold northern winter and by buying the new book or hiring a local guide you’ll be supporting the brilliant conservation work ongoing in this beautiful part of the world.  Go now!

 

Title image: birders distracted by an overflying raptor during the festival.  Photo by Zhu Lei.

Winter is coming…

It’s that time of year again.  As temperatures plummet and the days shorten, many people might think it’s time to stay indoors with a real fire, put on that favourite woolly jumper and sip a warm cup of (green) tea.  However, for birders, it’s worth putting on the thermal underwear and braving those icy temperatures – winter can be a brilliant time.

Here are five reasons why winter is a good time for birding in Beijing:

  • First, with the leaves down, birds are easier to observe
  • Second, winter is the only time we can see certain species (for example, those that breed to the north of Beijing, including as far north as Mongolia and Russian Siberia, and spend the winter here). These species include: Ruddy Shelduck, Common Crane, White-tailed Eagle, Rough-legged Buzzard, Merlin, Mongolian Lark, the winter thrushes (Naumann’s. Dusky, Red-throated and Black-throated), Goldcrest, Guldenstadt’s Redstart, Siberian Accentor, Brambling, Pallas’s Rosefinch, Japanese Reed Bunting, Lapland Bunting and Pine Bunting.
  • Third, many mountain dwelling species will move lower into the valleys and even into cities in the winter, making them easier to see. For example: Winter Wren, Beijing Babbler, Plain Laughingthrush and Yellow-throated Bunting.
  • Fourth, depending on the seed crops and weather, especially the extent of snowfall, some species ‘irrupt’ in large numbers to areas where they would normally not occur in significant numbers. Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Japanese and Bohemian Waxwings and Redpolls are examples of species that sometimes ‘irrupt’ into Beijing.
  • Finally, there is always a chance of finding something special. The discovery of wintering Jankowski’s Buntings in winter 2015/2016 by Xing Chao and Huang Mujiao was exceptional.  Who knows what else might occur – maybe a Snowy Owl at Lingshan?  Or a Gyrfalcon at Ma Chang?
2016-03-07 Jankowski's Bunting, Miyun5
One of the wintering JANKOWSKI’S BUNTINGS at Miyun Reservoir in winter 2015/2016.

The best winter sites?

Most good birding sites in the capital (e.g. Yeyahu, Lingshan, Huairou, Miyun and Shahe Reservoirs (if accessible)) are worth visiting all year round.  And, within the city itself, the Botanical Gardens, with its berry-laden shrubs, is often one of the first sites to host groups of Japanese or Bohemian Waxwings during a ‘waxwing year’.  The Olympic Forest Park can host Beijing Babbler in winter and is often a good place to see Brown-cheeked Rails and Great Bittern.  It has also played host to some very scarce winter visitors such as ‘caudatus’ Northern Long-tailed Tit and Chiffchaff.  For me, personally, two of the best winter birding sites are Donglingshan and Shidu.

Donglingshan (东灵山)

2015-11-01 Red-throated Thrush male in flight, Lingshan2
Red-throated Thrush usually winters in good numbers at Lingshan.

The site of Beijing’s highest peak (2,303m), around 110km west of the city along the G109, Donglingshan is a superb winter birding site.  It is the only reliable site in Beijing to see the high-altitude specialist, Guldenstadt’s Redstart, and the scarce Pallas’s Rosefinch.  In most winters, tens of the former spend the winter feeding on the sea buckthorn berries in the many gullies and valleys below the peak and small flocks of the latter can be found foraging under stands of silver birch.  Other reliable species here include Chinese Beautiful and Long-tailed Rosefinches (interestingly, the latter are of the subspecies lepidus from central China and not the more northerly ussuriensis that has occurred in other parts of Beijing), not to mention Siberian and Alpine Accentors, good numbers of thrushes, Cinereous Vulture, Golden Eagle and, in some years, Asian Rosy Finch.  Rarities at this time of year have included Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Black and Przewalski’s (Alashan) Redstarts.

At around 2,000m, a visit to Donglingshan in winter can be bitterly cold, especially if the wind is blowing.  However, if you time your visit on a day with light winds and sunshine, it can be surprisingly pleasant and hugely rewarding.

A downloadable PDF guide for Donglingshan (Lingshan) can be found here.

 

Shidu (十渡)

A spectacular gorge worthy of a visit in its own right, even without any birds, Shidu is an excellent winter birding destination, offering species that can be hard to see in other parts of the capital.  A road runs through the gorge, crossing several bridges and it’s a good tactic to stop close to the bridges to scan the area.  Shidu is perhaps most famous in birding circles for its Black Storks, a handful of which can be seen feeding alongside the river.  However, many more interesting species are possible.  For the last few years, at least one, sometimes two, Wallcreepers have been reliable near bridge 6.  And Long-billed Plover, Brown Dipper, Crested Kingfisher, Plumbeous Water Redstart, White-capped Water Redstart and Cinereous Vulture are all regular in winter.  Even the spectacular Ibisbill, a species that is increasingly difficult to see in the capital, is possible.  And Solitary Snipe, another difficult-to-see species has also been recorded.

2013-11-23 Wallcreeper, Shidu
Shidu is the best place in Beijing to see Wallcreeper.

 

Ten Species To Look Out For This Winter

Beijing has many special birds in the colder months and here are a few to look out for.

1.     Merlin This small, compact, falcon can often be seen hunting flocks of small passerines, including buntings and larks.  Open spaces such as Ma Chang (Yanqing) and the edges of reservoirs are good places to look.

 

2.     Cinereous Vulture  With a wingspan of c3m, this huge bird of prey can be seen in the mountains around Beijing from November to March.  Feeding on carrion, they can often be seen patrolling the ridges of mountainous areas on sunny days, especially when there is a breeze, providing them with lift.

 

3.     Goldcrest This tiny bird is insectivorous and, somehow, it can find enough food in Beijing in winter.  The larger parks, such as the Botanical Gardens and the Olympic Forest Park, are good places to look.  Focus your search on areas with conifers and listen for their high-pitched calls.
4.     Siberian Accentor This beautiful sparrow-sized bird likes scrubby areas with lots of good undergrowth.  They can be shy but with patience and knowledge of their high-pitched call, searching in the right areas should be successful.  The Botanical Gardens and Donglingshan are two good places to look.

 

5.     Naumann’s Thrush  Naumann’s is the most common of the four classic ‘winter thrushes’ in Beijing (the others are Dusky, Red-throated and Black-throated).  With its orange-coloured tones, Naumann’s Thrush is a very pretty bird and can often be seen feeding on berries or on the ground in Beijing’s parks.
6.     Japanese Waxwing The beautiful Japanese Waxwing is an annual winter visitor to Beijing in varying numbers.  Sometimes in large flocks, they can strip berries from a bush in minutes.  Listen for their ‘ringing’ calls and look for flocks of birds that have similar silhouettes to starlings.  Can most easily be told from the very similar Bohemian Waxwing by the pinkish, not yellow, tip to the tail.
7.     Winter Wren The charismatic Winter Wren breeds in the mountains around Beijing and, in winter, it moves to lower elevations to escape the harshest winter temperatures.  In winter it can be found in the Botanical Gardens and other large parks, often near water.  The distinctive cocked tail means that it’s unmistakeable.
8.     Brambling The Brambling is a common winter visitor to Beijing.  A sociable bird, it can often be found in flocks feeding on seeds (often beech mast) at the base of trees.  Listen for its upslurred call as flocks wheel around over wooded areas.
9.     Pallas’s Rosefinch A real gem of the Beijing winter, the Pallas’s Rosefinch is one of the most sought after species by foreign birders visiting the capital.  A winter visitor in varying numbers, usually to relatively high elevations, it is most reliably found at Donglingshan in winter.  The ridge above the Botanical Gardens and sites around the Great Wall can also produce this species.  A favourite food is birch mast, so look for stands of silver birch and check the ground around the bases of the trees.
10.  Pallas’s Bunting  A winter visitor in good numbers, the Pallas’s Bunting is one of Beijing’s signature winter birds.  Found in reedbeds and any areas of rank grass and/or scrub, it can be skittish but will sometimes sit on the top of vegetation and utter its sparrow-like call, quite different to that of the similar, but scarcer, Common Reed Bunting and Japanese Reed Bunting.

Of course, the most important thing about going birding is not where you go or what you see but that you enjoy it.  Wishing everyone a wonderful winter’s birding.

 

Title image: Przewalski’s (Alashan) Redstart, Lingshan, February 2014.

This article has been translated into Chinese and appeared in the Winter edition of the China Birdwatching Society magazine.

Beijing Schools Set Up Birding Clubs

Last Friday I visited the International School of Beijing (ISB).  On the back of their involvement with the Beijing Cuckoo Project, the three students elected as “Cuckoo Ambassadors” have set up a birding club.  Meeting on Friday afternoons, the group is planning to invite external speakers to talk about various aspects of birds and to arrange field trips to birding sites in Beijing.  I was invited to speak about the Beijing Swift.  After a short talk about the Beijing Swift Project and a great Q&A session, we discussed how ISB could help the declining population of Swifts, caused by the demolition of traditional buildings, many of which host Swift nests, and their replacement with new, shiny buildings with no nooks and crannies for Swifts.  Including ‘swift bricks’ in the designs of new buildings is one way to help and, for existing buildings, retrofitting nest boxes is another.  The students were keen to explore the idea of making nest boxes in their woodwork classes and erecting them on campus with a view to trying to attract a colony to their school and they will be discussing with their teachers this week.  If they go ahead, they’ll be the second school to commit to building and erecting swift boxes in Beijing after Harrow International School.

The first field trip, to Yeyahu, was scheduled for the following weekend.

Just two days later I was at the Olympic Forest Park helping to lead a group of students from Hepingli No4 Primary School.  This school, too, has its own birding club and even has its own badge, proudly displayed on their backpacks!  On a beautiful, but cold, morning we enjoyed good views of some of the park’s residents including Grey Herons, Little Grebes and Light-vented Bulbuls.

Watching Little Grebes in the Olympic Forest Park with students from the Hepingli No4 Primary School Birdwatching Club
This group of Grey Herons was a major hit….
….as were the autumn leaves!
Li Xiaoyang was my chief apprentice!

It’s heartening to see Beijing’s schools setting up birding clubs and hopefully these two leading lights represent just the beginning of a new trend.

Update: On Monday 6 November I was informed that Kevin O’Shea, one of the teachers at the Canadian International School of Beijing (CISB), has just set up a wildlife club for students, meeting every Wednesday.  Congratulations, CISB!  

Title image: the badge of Hepingli No4 Primary School’s Birdwatching Society.

 

Snow Leopards and More: The Tibetan Plateau

The love affair with the Tibetan Plateau continues.  Here’s a short video covering some of the highlights of our most recent visit to the Yushu area with Mark Andrews, Rick Bateman, Brian Egan, Dale Forbes and Marie Louise.  Once again we were fortunate to enjoy some stunning encounters with Snow Leopards and much much more, including Tibetan Wolf, multiple superb views of Tibetan Fox, Glover’s and Plateau Pikas, Tibetan Gazelle, Tibetan Antelope, White-lipped Deer, Blue Sheep, Woolly Hare, Asian Badger (at 4400m!) as well as some special birds such as Bar-headed Goose, Black-necked Crane, Pinktail, White Eared Pheasant, Alashan, White-throated, Hodgson’s and White-winged Redstarts, Brown and Robin Accentors, Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon Vulture, Saker, White-winged Grosbeak, many snowfinches and rosefinches, Tibetan Bunting and Tibetan Babax, to name a few.  Despite spending a lot of time in suitable habitat, we failed to find Pallas’s Cat, a species that is probably quite common in the area but difficult to see due to its primarily nocturnal habits.  And we had a frustratingly brief encounter with a probable Chinese Mountain Cat.  It’s a special place!

Although access to the area is restricted, and sensitive (the area is inside a national nature reserve and it is due to become one of China’s first national parks), small groups can be facilitated as long as the trip is arranged through the proper channels.  Independent travel is not permitted and, to reinforce that, while we were there, a group of foreigners was ejected from the valley because they had not registered.

It was great to stay with one of the local families of yak herders and to see how the training, just a few weeks earlier, had influenced their thinking.  It’s still very early days in terms of developing wildlife watching tourism in the area, and there are still many issues to address before these pilot trips can be scaled up, however there is no doubting the potential to provide visitors with an unforgettable experience whilst supporting the local people and raising funds for conservation and I’m excited to be working with the local government and ShanShui to make it happen.

If you are interested in visiting, please get in touch.

A huge thank you to the local government and to ShanShui Conservation Center (especially Zhao Xiang and Li Yuhan) for their invaluable help and support, without which our trip would not have been possible.

Finally, just for fun, this photo from the trip has been causing a stir on social media; a Snow Leopard stalking a magpie that’s a little too close to his kill.. can you spot it?

Snow Leopard eyeing magpie