In February, when the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) asked me to help them identify the birds depicted in more than eight hundred old paintings, I was both honoured and daunted. The paintings date from the late 19th century and are thought to be by French missionaries, including Pierre Marie Heude. The identifications would be used to create captions for a planned exhibition in Beijing beginning in late March. Despite the doubt running through my head about whether I would be able to distinguish 19th century depictions of Chinese leaf warblers, I said yes.
The collection of exquisite paintings depicts more than 460 species, around one third of the species recorded in China. Thankfully, there are no leaf warblers amongst them and, given the French have a tradition of producing outstanding painters, my task was not as difficult as I feared.
Fast forward a month and I found myself suited up and on a panel of speakers, alongside the French Ambassador, at the opening of the exhibition at the Poly Art Museum in Beijing.
After the short speeches, a group of local schoolchildren put on a fantastic mini play about the importance of protecting birds and their habitats. It was heartwarming to see young people enthused about wild birds and aware of the threats they face, from habitat loss to illegal hunting.
The opening was covered by Beijing TV and the print media. See here (in Chinese):
The exhibition is a superb way to engage the public about the rich and diverse avifauna in China. As a famous conservationist once said “we want to protect what we love, but we can only love what we know”. Awareness is the first step towards conservation. As the opening ceremony closed, already school groups were filing in to enjoy the paintings.
Congratulations to CBCGDF for putting together a wonderful exhibition and a special thank you to Dr Zhou Jinfeng, Secretary General of the CBCGDF and his staff, including Linda Wong, for being such great partners during this adventure.. Also a big thank you to Lynx Edicions for allowing use of the text from Handbook of the Birds of the World about distributions and habitat preferences for individual species.
The exhibition, on the 10th floor of the New Poly Building at Dongsishitiao, runs until 13 April and is open from 0930 to 1630 daily. Entrance is free.