Beijing’s first ever HARLEQUIN (丑鸭) was discovered on 9 February 2017, when it was photographed by a local bird photographer at the unexpected location of Anzhenmen in central Beijing. Not surprisingly, this first for the capital has proved extremely popular with birders and photographers and has attracted the attention of the local media.
The vast majority of people have been very well-behaved and kept their distance, especially since the Beijing Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (BWRRC) erected a banner on site with information about the species and asking people not to feed it or get too close.
However, last week the bird suddenly lost the majority of its tail feathers and there was speculation that it had attracted the attention of some people with ill intentions. Shortly afterwards, someone was spotted on site after dark with a powerful spotlight and a fishing net acting suspiciously.
Local birder, 武其 (Wu Qi), was determined not to let the criminals catch the Harlequin and, with some friends, organised patrols after dark to ensure the bird’s safety and recruited young volunteers to speak to local people and passers by. As of today, those patrols are ongoing and the bird remains on site.
On Monday, with the help of 钟婕 (Zhong Jie), I conducted a short interview with Wu Qi to discuss his actions, including his views on wild bird conservation in China. Wu Qi’s answers are below:
Q: What are the threats to the Harlequin at Anzhenmen?
A: The threats to the Anzhenmen Harlequin are: illegal catching for food, inappropriate feeding and water quality (pollution). According to witnesses on-site, some people have tried to catch it for eating.
Q: What motivated you to try to protect this bird?
A: We understand that worldwide, the Harlequin Duck is not rare and is not classified as an endangered species. However, Harlequin is a difficult bird to see in China, and this is the first record of this species in Beijing. As birders, we want something good for this Harlequin, which is to see it safely survive the winter and migrate back to its breeding grounds in Spring. At the same time, we want to take this opportunity to raise the awareness and knowledge of the public about how to protect wildlife correctly. We believe that the energy and efforts of a few of us are limited, so we decided to arrange volunteers to help to protect the Harlequin.
Q: Do you think the bird is safe now?
A: We have been protecting the bird for a week and, so far, there has been no catching behaviour, and inappropriate feeding has also been substantially reduced. However, we believe the water quality at the weir is not so good and we are concerned that it may contain toxic substances which may accumulate in the Harlequin’s body and affect its health and breading potential.
Q: What do your friends and family think about your actions to protect this bird?
A: My family is supportive about what I have done. And they felt very proud when they saw me on the Beijing TV news about our Harlequin protection. My friends are all nature enthusiasts or professionals engaged in nature education and wildlife conservation. So they understood very well my actions. Many of my friends have been directly involved in protecting the Harlequin. They call me “a guy of action”.
Q: Every country has a minority of people who want to harm wild birds. What do you think can be done to help protect wild birds in China?
A: In China, I feel the most critical thing is not to protect a specific bird or a species of birds, but to change the mindset and attitude of the public and government sectors towards wildlife. For example, we should let people know that wild birds do not a provide higher nutritional value than poultry. On the contrary, wild birds may have the risk of carrying parasites and contagious disease. As for the government sectors, we expect them to understand the meaning of biological function and diversity. Investing a huge amount of money to create an artificial “wetland park” is not as good as providing a lake or natural wetland that is left wild and has reduced human disturbance. I think public campaigns and communication are very important. It’s also important to promote birding activities, especially involving young kids, to help communicate and spread appreciation, knowledge and awareness about wildlife protection.
武其 (Wu Qi), “a guy of action”, works for an environmental NGO called “The Nature Library”, dedicated to promoting nature and environmental education in schools, among communities and in public parks. He’s a great example of the growing number of people passionate about protecting biodiversity in Beijing. Thank you Wu Qi and friends!
Big thanks to 钟婕 (Zhong Jie), English name Michelle, for assistance with the translations.
Title image: Wu Qi (right) with Shi Yang of the Beijing Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (BWRRC).