Small forces protect large forests

Updated: 2011-10-20 07:35

By Zhang Yan and Li Yao (China Daily)

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MANGSHI, Yunnan - The forest police station in Mengzhan village is 30 kilometers southeast of Mangshi, capital of Yunnan province's Dehong Dai and Jingpo autonomous prefecture, where it is one of 22 forest security offices in operation.

Yang Guochang, head of Mengzhan's forest security office, has only five officers under him who are responsible for protecting wildlife and making the forests in an area encompassing 500 square km secure.

His team works in an 8-square-meter room rented from the Mengzhan village committee. They share a single police car, which they take on their patrols along nearby mountain roads.

"Poor equipment and precautions, as well as our small staff, are the biggest hurdles to combating crimes," he said.

Beyond conducting their routine weekly patrols, the officers must investigate reports of illegal wildlife hunting and deforestation, he said.

Getting to the scenes of those crimes often forces them to drive along winding mountain roads, where mudslides and landslides occur frequently, especially during rainy seasons. The patrol car they have often proves incapable of coping with those conditions, he said.

"Halfway up the mountains, the roads are usually rutted and pooling up with rain, and our car can't go ahead," he said. "We have to watch out to avoid falling off the edge."

The conditions at times have forced Yang's team to remain in the mountains for half a month or more. Foreseeing the possibility of that happening again, they now take food, cookware and tents on their journeys and try to stay vigilant for any dangers or difficulties they may encounter.

"We could be risking our lives at any time if we meet fierce or violent criminals," he said.

"This vast land of green forests is the pride and joy of Yunnan, and is an ideal habitat for diverse wildlife. We have to protect what we have today, and pass this treasure on to future generations."

He said he and his team have worked hard to teach villagers about the harmful consequences of illegal wildlife trafficking and that such crimes have become less common in recent years.

From the beginning of the year to the end of August, the police investigated only 3 cases related to wildlife trafficking.

One likely cause of that decrease is that local police began confiscating shotguns in the village more than a decade ago, and nowadays very few people venture out to hunt wild animals, said Xiong Meiguo, a villager.

"Forest security officers have repeatedly encouraged us to stop hunting wild animals in past years," she said. "And now we know more about wildlife protection."