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Migrant birds suffering on snow-bound wetlands
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The news that six more Chinese wetlands had been identified as "of international importance" didn't excite Ji Weitao - he was preoccupied with the number of migrant birds unable to find shelter or food amid the deep freeze of Poyang Lake Nature Reserve.

Trekking through the snow-bound wetlands, Ji and his colleagues carried two sacks of feed and spread it on the shores of the lake for wild geese and cranes.

Grassroots, fish and shrimps in shoals are their usual favorite food but the persistent snow that started early January and the accompanying deep freeze have buried their meals deep under snow.

In another wetland, the eastern part of Dongting Lake, in central Hunan province, white cranes, oriental white storks, Chinese Meganser and white-tailed sea eagles were also struggling in the cold wind.

As the green warm ripples changed into a world of ice and snow, staff with the Eastern Dongting Lake Nature Reserve found only 1,000 migrant birds in a territory of 50 square kilometers.

Quite a number of them have flown away to hunt for food in farm fields as the ice on water stood at five to six cm thick on average, or even 10 cm thick in some places, said Jiang Yong, deputy chief of the nature reserve.

Pre-snow observational data revealed a total of 160,000 migrant birds have swarmed into the reserve with its core area measuring 16,000 hectares this year, much higher than last year.

"When we face difficulties, care and assistance always warm our hearts. It's the same with the birds," Jiang said, urging people not to hurt the starving creatures. "Some poachers have started to move in," he warned.

More than two tonnes of food have been scattered in the core area of the reserve on a daily basis. Straws and reeds were piled up where birds frequented as temporary perches.

Routine patrols have so far led to the rescue of more than 120 birds, either starving or suffering frostbite, Jiang said.

Both of the two sites have been inscribed into the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance constituted in 1971. On Feb. 2, the World's Wetlands Day, six new Chinese sites were added to the list which already included 1,717 wetlands, totaling 159 million hectares.

They are the Chinese Sturgeon Wetland in Shanghai, a nature reserve in the mouth of Beilun River of Guangxi, the Mangrove Nature Reserve in the estuary of Zhangjiang River of Fujian, Honghu Wetland in Hubei, Gongping Dalu Nature Reserve in Guangdong and Ruoergai Wetland in Sichuan, sources with the State Forestry Administration (SFA) said.

The new sites have lifted up China's share of wetlands of international importance to 3.8 million hectares, a tiny 2.3 percent of the world's total.

SMA chief Jia Zhibang told a campaign to mark the World's Wetland Day that China would strive to curb the shrinkage of wetlands by 2010 and have half its wetland resources under effective protection. By 2030, China would aim to have 80 wetlands inscribed into the list of international importance, at least 11 percent of its total wetland sites.

The immediate task facing wetlands, however, was to secure the health of migrant birds and restore the damaged ecosystem, he said.

(Xinhua News Agency February 9, 2008)

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