China Focus: China's Hubei sees endangered species recover under conservation efforts

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WUHAN, Nov. 3 (Xinhua) -- Every noon, Ding Zeliang carries a bucket of small fish and feeds the young Yangtze finless porpoises in Tian'ezhou National Nature Reserve, central China's Hubei Province.

As a breeder, Ding has treated these mammals as his children and is glad to see their population recovering in recent years.

Once upon a time, this fleshy aquatic animal (dubbed a "smiling angel") was in danger as its natural habitats were under threat from pollution, overfishing, and river traffic.

However, thanks to China's effective measures to conserve finless porpoises, including ex-situ conservation, artificial breeding, and in-situ conservation, the once-endangered mammal is now coming back and frequently appears in the Hubei section of China's longest river, the Yangtze.

"The number of the finless porpoises here has reached nearly 100, with an annual growth rate of about 8 percent," said Xu Chunyong, deputy director of the management office of the Tian'ezhou reserve, one of the earliest ex-situ conservation areas of finless porpoises in China.

Tian'ezhou reserve is the epitome of China's achievements in protecting this animal.

According to the latest research on the species released by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs in 2022, some finless porpoises also appeared in areas where they never arrived before, indicating the population may recover.

"Finless porpoises also have emotions. They need to be carefully taken care of," said Ding.

Other endangered creatures in the Yangtze River basin, such as milu deer, are also returning to nature under ecological conservation.

Endemic to China, milu deer are nicknamed "sibuxiang," or "animal like none of the four," as they have a horse-like face, a donkey-like tail, cow-like hooves, and stag-like antlers. They inhabit marshland and feed on tender grass.

Due to hunting, war, and natural disasters, much of the living space of milu deer was occupied. At the beginning of the 1900s, with only 18 left in the rest of the world, milu deer were extinct in China, their original country.

China has established three reserves, including the Shishou Milu Deer National Nature Reserve in Hubei Province, to enlarge the population. In the 1990s, the Shishou reserve introduced 64 milu deer from abroad in two batches.

Close to the Yangtze River, the area has a complete wetland ecosystem and vast pastureland, which is an ideal habitat for milu deer.

"In recent years, advanced techniques such as drones and infrared cameras facilitate observation and conservation of the deer," said Wen Huajun, director of the management office of the reserve.

The number of milu deer in the reserve has grown from 64 in the 1990s to around 2,500 over the past three decades, with an annual natural growth rate of 15 percent, said Wen.

Besides milu deer, many nationally protected species, including Shennongjia golden monkeys, are also frequently observed in the region, and the number tends to increase.

Shennongjia Forestry District, with an average altitude of around 1,700 meters in western Hubei Province, is one of the habitats of golden monkeys.

The Shennongjia golden monkey, which has been living in the Yangtze River basin since ancient times, is a sub-species of the Chuan golden monkey.

However, this wild species became severely endangered. By the early 1990s, there were only about 500 golden monkeys in Shennongjia Forestry District, raising serious concerns for wildlife protection.

"Protecting Shennongjia golden monkeys is meaningful to conserve the genetic diversity of the whole golden monkey population," said Huang Tianpeng, director of Dalongtan Golden Monkey Research Center in Shennongjia National Park, part of the Shennongjia Forestry District.

Since then, Shennongjia Forestry District has gradually made achievements in disease prevention and control, artificial breeding, and environmental adaptability evaluation, contributing to the recovery of the monkey species.

As of July this year, the number of golden monkeys in Shennongjia Forestry District had reached 1,483, with the habitat areas extending from 210 to 354 square kilometers.

"Shennongjia golden monkeys used to be wary of humans, so you had to hide miles away and watch them through binoculars," Huang said.

"Now, we are very pleased that those monkeys are willing to shake hands with researchers, just like our good friends," Huang said, adding that substantial progress has been made in protecting them. Enditem

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