One man on a motorbike protects 50,000 birds

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The early spring wind is chilly at five o'clock in the morning, when, telescope strapped to his back, Wang Sanyi sets out on his motorbike to circumnavigate the lake near his home.

Every autumn, flocks of birds migrate from Siberia to winter in wetland near Caizi Lake, Anqing, in east China's Anhui Province - more than 50,000 of them last year, including hooded crane and oriental stork.

Wang, 66, is head of a group of local people dedicated to protecting the lake. Every day he patrols the lake on the lookout for hunters.

Local forestry official He Xudong told us how, in the 1970s and 1980s, agriculture and aquiculture changed the characteristics of the lake; farmers used chemical feed in their fish farms, fertilizers on their fields, and many caught migratory birds to sell.

Today, there is 17,000 hectares of wetland left, compared to almost 25,000 hectares in the past.

Wang recalls how, in the migration season, the sounds of gunshots punctuated every morning and distress calls wailed out from traps used catch the birds alive.

In 1995, Anqing started to create wetland reserves along the Yangtze River and in 2007 the city decided to protect the marshes around Caizi. In March 2013, the first national wetland protection plan came into being and Anhui is working on provincial legislation.

"We cannot rely solely on the government to solve our problems," Wang said. After retiring as a village official in 2010, he founded a wetland protection association and more than 90 percent of his members are local farmers.

In the migration season, a team of 20 members patrol the lake every day. They usually get up at 4 a.m. and are rarely home before 10 in the evening. If they find anyone hunting or disturbing the birds, they report the matter to the forest police.

For Wang, combating hunters and thieves is less important than teaching the public about bird protection. His association has even composed folk songs to popularize the notion among local people.

Local man Liu Zhicai was once a famed hunter. He could make up to 10,000 yuan (1,600 U.S. dollars) each day from shooting birds.

"Old Wang came to my home many times trying to persuade me to stop hunting," Liu said. "What he said made so much sense that I was finally unable to refuse."

Wang is always lobbying the villagers, warning them the consequences of breaking the law and tempting them with the prospect of local eco-tourism.

Many villagers like Liu have joined Wang's campaign. "We have more than 300 members and volunteers," he said. "Besides protecting birds, we also clean garbage from the lake regularly."

Wang has sunk his entire savings into the organization and borrowed money to build an observation tower and install a monitoring network. A total of 800,000 yuan has been invested in his campaign.

For Wang, all the investment is worthwhile. "I will continue to protect the birds as long as I live," he said.

The average age of the association members is over 50, but Wang expects more young people will join.

"The cause should be passed down from generation to generation," he said.

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