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Protecting the mountain from poachers

By Xinhua | China Daily | Updated: 2017-03-22 07:23

For 22 years, Yu Jiahua has spent several days each month patrolling a mountain looking for poachers in Southwest China's Sichuan province. Mount Jiuding, a 10-minute walk from Yu's village, is surrounded by hundreds of square meters of forest and is home to many wild animals.

"In the 1960s, there were hundreds of thousands of wild animals," he said.

The 65-year-old can identify animals just by their footprints and his family also used to hunt. "We hunted birds and animals, but we had rules," he said. "We never hunted young or female animals."

Since the 1980s, poachers have been the scourge of Mount Jiuding, killing large numbers of wild animals to sell. Some even set wildfires to force the animals to flee so that they can catch them.

"The poachers, waiting at the foot of the mountain, would kill the animals as they fled the fires. Those trapped were burned to death - their screams made your toes curl," Yu said.

Traps were also set using wire instead of the traditional hemp, leaving little opportunity for prey to escape.

Such unsustainable hunting methods left the mountain almost devoid of wildlife by 1994.

One year later, Yu, his brother and some other villagers organized a patrol team to drive the poachers away. But it was not easy to stop them, as hunting had become a way of life for many.

Yu still remembers when four poachers with shotguns threatened to kill him. "I will shoot you if you stop me," one of them had shouted.

To expand the patrol team, Yu established a wild animal and plant protection association in 2004, which attracted more than 100 members.

Since then, the team has patrolled the mountain more than 10 times every year. "On the one hand, we continue to stop illegal hunting. On the other hand, we monitor the latest information about wild animals in the region," Yu said.

Several years ago, he set up infrared cameras on the mountain to track endangered animals.

Thanks to his anti-poaching group, illegal hunting has fallen dramatically during the past 22 years.

"Farmers now have more methods to make money and illegal hunting is decreasing, but not disappearing," Yu said. He even found a shotgun left in a cave on his latest mountain patrol.

The number of wild animals on the mountain is slowly recovering as well.

"There were less than 10 golden pheasants in 1995, but now the number has risen to 700," Yu said.

His sons and grandsons have all joined the patrol team, which is supported by government subsidies as well as donations. "It will take a long time to restore the ecosystem," Yu said. "Guarding the mountain has become our family mission, and we will not give up halfway."

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