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Safeguarding cranes more than a job for Xizang villager

By PALDEN NYIMA and DAQIONG in Lhasa | China Daily | Updated: 2023-11-27 10:49
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Black-necked cranes and bar-headed geese winter in Lhaze county in the Xizang autonomous region in January. JIGMI DORJE/XINHUA

Efforts to protect vulnerable birds have led to boom in population

As the vast harvested fields are bathed in the plateau's morning light, the sound of black-necked cranes searching for food fills the air in Lhaze county in the Xizang autonomous region, also known as Tibet.

At around 10 am, black-necked crane caretaker Tenzin sets off from Gyamda village on his electric tricycle for a patrol along the river and among the fields. A patrolman for more than two decades, he said protecting the rare birds is more than just a job.

A first-class nationally protected species, the crane is also categorized as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and Tibetans regard the birds as harbingers of prosperity and auspiciousness. "Every year between October and March, the black-necked cranes choose to stay in our village, and my fellow villagers are happy to welcome them," said Tenzin, 72. "Whenever I hear them singing, I am very happy from the bottom of my heart, and they are very cute in my eyes."

He said that after accompanying them for so long, the birds seem to be friendly toward him, and he can sometimes approach them quite closely.

Tenzin said thousands of the birds spend the winter in his village, and the fields are spotted with them. He said he hasn't counted the population but has noticed its growth over the past few decades.

He patrols the Yarlung Zangbo River and the fields once every two to three days, covering over 30 kilometers a day, and makes sure the cranes are not being harmed by stray dogs or getting injured by high-voltage wires. "Last year, two cranes died when they hit an electrified wire while landing in the fields," he said. "This year, I haven't seen any cranes harmed in such a way."

Tenzin saved one bird that broke a wing years ago when it flew into a wire. He took it home, sent it to the local forestry and grassland bureau for further treatment and then took care of it for months.

He said he has had to prevent stray dogs from chasing the birds from time to time, and has used a slingshot to shoo them away.

Tenzin said that the local forestry and grassland bureau has been distributing forage for the birds every year, with around 50 sacks of grain distributed last year. He and his family usually oversee the feeding.

The county's authorities and residents are now going above and beyond to protect the majestic black-necked cranes and their habitat in its black-necked crane national nature reserve. Established in 2003, the reserve has become a vital wintering site for the birds, and boasts a thriving population thanks to the unwavering commitment of conservation officers like Tenzin.

Lhaze county has undertaken various measures to effectively manage and safeguard the reserve, including the establishment of protection stations, the appointment of conservation officers and regular patrols that help monitor any potential threats.

The county now has five management and protection stations, with eight patrolmen dedicated to the daily management and protection of black-necked cranes. An additional 150 ecological forest rangers have been added to the protection and management force this year. They regularly patrol the protected area, rescue injured black-necked cranes and purchase feed and medication for use during winter.

The county government has spent 1.26 million yuan ($172,000) on ecological restoration and afforestation, with 23 hectares of land in the black-necked crane nature reserve planted with trees.

As a result of increased protection over the past decade, the region's black-necked crane population has increased from less than 3,000 in 1995 to more than 10,000 today, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the total in China.

"I am very happy to see that the local government also attaches such great importance to the protection of wildlife, including the black-necked cranes, and I will do my best to protect the species during the twilight of my life," Tenzin said. "I hope my son and grandson will take on the job in the future."

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