Beijing police keeping up fight against wildlife crime

I have reported before – for example here and here – about the local police in Beijing responding to reports of wildlife crime.  I am pleased to say their good work appears to be a sustained effort.

On Thursday afternoon I paid a short visit to the Wenyu River.  It’s a reasonably fast-flowing river so, even in the depths of winter when most water bodies are frozen, it is often ice-free and attracts many water birds, including thousands of duck and occasionally swans and geese.  However, as well as providing good birding, this knowledge is not lost on wildlife criminals.

Thursday was not particularly birdy and the highlight was a party of four Whooper Swans which relaxed on the river with one eye on me as I scanned the duck from the river bank.  Suddenly, around 60 Mallard took flight and I wondered what had caused the disturbance..  Then I saw the culprit – a young man with a catapult who had been firing ball bearings at the flock, initially from his car and then from much closer as he hid behind a tree.

As a wildlife-lover, sights like this make me angry and sad.  In the modern world, wildlife is facing enough pressures from habitat destruction, pollution and the impacts of climate change without the actions of an ignorant few.  I took some photos and video, including a clear image of his car plate, and sent them to the local State Forestry Police in Shunyi District.  Despite it still being the Chinese New Year holiday, to my delight the police responded immediately and, the following day, they had tracked down the owner of the vehicle, called him in to the police station, confiscated his catapult and ‘educated’ him about the law.

This man was called in to the police station and educated about the law that protects all wild birds in China.
The weapon: a catapult and ball bearings used to try to kill duck on the Wenyu River

Given no ducks were seen to be killed (thankfully he had a poor aim!), the most the police could do was give him a stern warning and remind him that his actions were against the law.  The police said he was very sorry and went home feeling repentant.

The offender with his vehicle, showing the same plate as in my photos sent to the police.

It is a good reminder to anyone who sees wildlife crime in Beijing (or anywhere) not to turn the other cheek or to think that the police won’t take it seriously.  Please capture as much evidence as you can, note the location and call the police.  At least in Beijing, they WILL act to enforce the law that protects all wild birds in China.

To help, I have published a list of the telephone numbers for the State Forestry Police in Beijing.  Note the police are organised by District, so the numbers are different, depending on where you live or go birding.  If you live in Beijing, or visit regularly, please save this image on your phone so you know who to call if you encounter any wildlife crime.

Huge thanks and kudos to the Shunyi District State Forestry Police for responding so fast and effectively, especially during the Chinese New Year festivities.

Beijing police: ridding the capital of wildlife crime, one offender at a time!

Advertisements

China launches new science unit to support the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership

Back in December, with thanks to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, I participated in the Meeting of the Partners of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) on the island of Hainan, just off the southern coast of China.  The EAAFP is an informal partnership of governments, international organisations, NGOs and companies dedicated to celebrating and conserving the world’s largest Flyway, supporting tens of millions of migratory birds.

The Partnership’s secretariat, based in Incheon in South Korea, works hard to “protect migratory waterbirds, their habitat and the livelihoods of people dependent upon them”  by providing a flyway wide framework to promote dialogue, cooperation and collaboration.  One example of this work is the creation of “Task Forces” to work on single species and/or single habitats, for example on Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Baer’s Pochard and the Yellow Sea.

For me, it was fascinating to meet with many international experts from the Partner countries, including Australia, China, Japan, Korea (North and South) Mongolia, New Zealand, Russia, Thailand and the US, and to participate in some of the workshops to help progress conservation of the Flyway’s special species and places.  For one species close to my heart – Baer’s Pochard – it was heartening to hear from the Mayor of Hengshui about the outstanding work he, his colleagues and partners have been doing to protect and manage Hengshui Hu (Hengshui Lake), the most important known site for this critically endangered duck.

However, perhaps the most important outcome of the meeting was the official launch of a new “Science Unit” to underpin the work of the EAAFP.  The Center for East Asian-Australasian Flyway Studies (known as CEAAF) sits in Beijing Forestry University under the leadership of Professor LEI Guangchun.  It has been funded for an initial five years by two Chinese Foundations – the Mangrove Conservation Foundation and Qiaonv Foundation – and is officially part of the EAAFP Secretariat.

The official signing ceremony with the EAAFP Secretariat and Beijing Forestry University to establish the EAAFP Science Unit (CEAAF).

Under Professor LEI’s leadership, the CEAAF team includes some of China’s most talented young waterbird scientists – including JIA Yifei, LIU Yunzhu, LU Cai, WU Lan and ZENG Qing – and is already taking forward work to coordinate winter surveys of priority species such as Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Scaly-sided Merganser and Baer’s Pochard.

It’s more evidence of China stepping up to the plate in terms of the conservation of birds and their habitats, and I look forward to working with Professor LEI and his team to strengthen the work to protect and celebrate the world’s important Flyway.

Header photo: the CEAAF team with senior members of the EAAFP Secretariat.  From left to right: JIA Yifei, ZENG Qing, LU Cai, Lew Young (Chief Executive of EAAFP), Professor LEI Guangchun, Hyeseon Do (EAAFP Secretariat), WU Lan and LIU Yunzhu.

The Guardian covers the story of Gu Xuan “The Anti-poacher” in Beijing

I was delighted to see that, following the coverage by Sam Vadas of Reuters, the story of Gu Xuan (Beijing’s “anti-poacher”) has been covered by The Guardian with an excellent, and moving, 10-minute film by Sean Gallagher.  Some revealing footage showing the birds, the poachers, the illegal markets and the police.  It’s essential viewing for anyone who cares about wild birds.

As Xuan says, education is critical, and I am convinced that, thanks to his tireless efforts and the actions and influence of the growing birding community in China, the tide will change.

Books for birders: thank you, Wildsounds!

Whilst in north Norfolk, England, for Christmas and New Year, I met up with many local birding and conservation friends including Duncan Macdonald who runs Wildsounds and Books.  Last year, Duncan was kind enough to donate a selection of books for young birders in Beijing, including copies of the MacKinnon Guide, Birds of East Asia and the Collins Bird Guide.  This year, Duncan was again very generous by giving me eight copies of the Collins Bird Guide to take back (requiring a little jiggery-pokery with my luggage!).

Whilst focused on Britain and Europe, the Collins Bird Guide is of enormous value to birders in China.  For example, the avifauna of Xinjiang Province, in the far northwest of China, has a distinctly European feel with species such as European Bee-eater, Collared Pratincole, Red-footed Falcon and Red-backed Shrike, to name a few.  And, of course, vagrants to East Asia from Europe – such as the recent European Robin – do not feature in traditional bird guides for China.  In addition, the plates and text for difficult-to-identify species such as Yellow-browed and Hume’s Warblers, Red-breasted and Red-throated Flycatchers and Desert and Isabelline Wheatears are far superior in Collins when compared with local literature.

On return to Beijing, not surprisingly, there was strong demand for these books among local birders.  I’m delighted to say that all copies went to enthusiastic young birders: Zhang Lin (Shanghai), Huang Chenjing, Liu Chunhong, Lu Wei, Wang Cui, Xing Chao, Zhang Qianyi and Zhu Haoqiang (all Beijing).  Some photos of the happy birders are below.

Huge thanks to Duncan and WildSounds and Books!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Beijing Swifts – the full sequence

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Beijing Swifts being filmed by the BBC Natural History Unit for a new series about urban wildlife.  “Cities: Nature’s New Wild”, a three-part series, was shown on BBC2 in late December and early January.  Unfortunately, at the last minute, the UK version was stripped of the Beijing Swift clip, which was replaced with a piece on Indonesian Swiftlets.  The Beijing Swifts will be part of the international version of the series that will be shown overseas.

I am pleased to say the full three-minute clip, including subtitles in Mandarin, can be seen here:

 

It’s great to see so many familiar local faces, many of whom were involved in the Beijing Swift Project to track these iconic birds from the Summer Palace to their wintering grounds in southern Africa and back, an astonishing 26,000km round-trip!

Illegal bird catching in Beijing covered by Reuters

A few weeks ago, I profiled local ‘anti-poacher’ Gu Xuan who has dedicated his life to stamping out the illegal capture of wild birds in Beijing.  His story deserves to be celebrated and, although an article on Birding Beijing probably doesn’t help much, I hoped it might be a catalyst for gaining more high profile attention.  Fortunately, Samantha Vadas from the Reuters office in Beijing picked up on the story and was keen to film a short piece about Gu Xuan and his efforts.

Last Monday we met up near the Drum Tower in central Beijing to interview Gu Xuan.

The result has been published on TRT World and hopefully will be syndicated to other outlets around the world.  You can see it here:

 

I am pleased to say that, since publication, there have been several donations to his crowdfunding site (only available in China) that will ensure he can continue his efforts.

Big thanks to Samantha and the Reuters team for shining a light on this illegal activity and helping to accelerate its eradication from Beijing.

 

‘Brexit refugee’ European Robin given warm reception in Beijing

Context is everything. The European Robin (Erithacus rubecula, 欧亚鸲, Ōu yà qú) is a bird many people take for granted in Europe but when one turns up outside its normal range, it can cause much excitement. A few days ago, news broke of a European Robin in the grounds of Beijing Zoo. The response has been incredible.

The crowd on site early morning of Friday 11 January 2019.

Not surprisingly, the news spread fast among the many social media (WeChat) groups and hundreds of (mostly) photographers and birders have descended on a small corner of the grounds of the zoo to catch a glimpse of this rare visitor. After seeing a few photos of the masses from local birders, I was fascinated to see the scene for myself.

So, on Friday morning, I spent a couple of hours on site. For the first hour, with the photographers camped around the spot where the Robin comes to feed on the provided meal worms, there was no sign of the bird. The gathering very much had the feel of a social occasion with people chatting, drinking tea and catching up with friends. If the Robin had been singing or calling, it would have been hard to hear it amongst the din of 200+ people.

One photographer thought it was hilarious that an English person had come to see what he described as a British bird. In fact, many of the photographers I spoke with associated the Robin with Britain and it had even been light-heartedly called a “Brexit Refugee” on social media, escaping the political chaos in the country of its perceived origin. Why the association with Britain? Of course, the Robin was voted as the UK’s national bird in 2015 in an informal vote organised by David Lindo (The Urban Birder). And many locals knew the Robin was associated with Christmas. However, with a range across Europe and into Central Asia, the Beijing Robin is more likely to have originated from the eastern part of its range. Sadly, it is not ringed with a metal ring from one of the UK’s observatories (now THAT would have been something).

It wasn’t long before the Robin appeared close by and it was a bit of a scrum as the chatter stopped and the photographers jostled for a prime spot from where to capture their hoped-for frame filling images. Running off the path and dragging themselves through some dense branches to reach a small clearing in the habitat was no barrier.

The scene when the Robin appeared in an area of scrub.

I am happy to say I took this video from a public path!

It was all a little bizarre to see so many people so excited about a European Robin but it also helped me to see the UK’s national bird in a new light and with a new sense of awe. After all, it is one of the most charismatic and loved birds of my home nation. And despite the slightly unruly behaviour of some of the photographers, it must be an encouraging sign that so many people are taking an interest in birds and the natural world in the world’s most populous country.

It has already attracted the attention of the media – see this article by China State Television’s international website, CGTN.

The Robin at the Beijing Zoo is Beijing’s third, after previous records in the winters of 2007 and 2014.

 

Title image: The European Robin at Beijing Zoo, Friday 11 January 2019.