At the invitation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), I have just spent three wonderful days at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens (XTBG) in southern Yunnan Province. Although I have visited Yunnan several times, it was my first visit to this particular oasis of subtropical forest, said to be one of the largest botanical gardens in the world and located close to the borders with Laos and Myanmar. The reason for my visit was to brief the Director, Dr Chen Jin, his staff and students about the Beijing Cuckoo Project.
Xishuangbanna Prefecture boasts rich biodiversity. In addition to an abundance of plants, “Banna” as it is known, is home to the last few Asian Elephants in China. And the Botanical Gardens alone have recorded more than 300 species of bird. The area, home to the Dai minority, suffers from relentless hunting pressure and deforestation which has seen much of the original forest replaced by rubber plantations. The remaining forest, home to such stunning species as Long-tailed Broadbill, Blue-naped Pitta, Crimson Sunbird, not to mention the range-restricted Limestone Wren-babbler, has thus become a conservation priority.
As with many conservation issues around the world, there is a desperate need for public engagement, especially with the local villages, to try to engender a greater appreciation for the unique natural heritage of the region.
That is why Dr Chen was so interested to hear about the Beijing Cuckoos and how the project has helped bring scientific discovery to the general public, helping to raise awareness of migratory birds beyond the usual scientific community. After meeting Dr Chen I met with his officials for more detailed conversations about the potential to work together to develop public engagement projects for Xishuangbanna. I am excited to say that we’ll be developing proposals over the next few weeks and months. There are parallels with the Amur Falcon story in Nagaland and, just as tagging technology has been part of that conservation success story, there’s a tremendous opportunity to use similar technology to help engage and enthuse a new generation in this remote part of southwest China. Watch this space! Big thanks to Alice Hughes and Wang Sidi for facilitating the invitation and for making the arrangements.
Of course, given it was my first visit to XTBG, I was delighted to accept the offer of guided birding with three talented local birders – Wang Ximin, Gu Bojian and Zhao Jiangbo. Highlights were a single ASIAN OPENBILL, only recently added to the avifauna of China, a flock of at least 15 LONG-TAILED BROADBILLS and, for me as a cuckoo-fan, the best of all – a pair of stunning VIOLET CUCKOOS. Thank you so much guys!
Title image: (from left to right) Wang Ximin, Zhao Jiangbo and Gu Bojian, three brilliant young birders based at XTBG.