A guest post by Terry Townshend, a British birder and conservationist who has been living and working in Beijing since August 2010. Terry recently became BirdLife Species Champion for Jankowski’s Bunting, and we spoke just last week about the widespread use of illegal mist nets in China and about the Chinese birders and local activists who are tearing them down.
A few days ago Terry was the first to alert the world to a terrible incident involving poisoned Oriental Storks, an Endangered East Asian endemic with a declining population. Terry has now written the article below which describes what has happened since the birds were found and which has also been posted today on the excellent Birding Frontiers website.
A Turning Point in China?
Something astonishing is happening in China. An unfolding story that one Chinese friend told me, “could be a turning point in conservation and wild bird protection in China.”
On Sunday 11 November local people discovered many sick and dying ORIENTAL STORKS (Ciconia boyciana) at Beidagang Reservoir, Tianjin (just 30 mins from Beijing by train). These globally endangered birds - with a restricted range in East Asia – had been poisoned illegally by poachers using a chemical called carbofuran that, although banned in the EU, Canada and many other countries, is commonly available and used, legitimately, as a pesticide all over China.
The storks were possibly unintended victims of well-organised and, sadly, all-too common poaching activity intended to catch swans, ducks and geese for the restaurant trade.
Carbofuran is mixed with cereal, or given to fish in small man-made pools. Birds lose consciousness after eating the bait, are caught by hand and injected with an antidote. The victims are then shipped – usually alive – to restaurants, primarily in southern China. The demand for wild birds is high and they are sold as a delicacy, with many consumers, particularly in southern cities like Guangzhou and Shenzhen, believing that wild birds taste better than farmed produce, and they are prepared to pay a premium. A wild goose or swan can fetch several hundred Yuan (100 Yuan = 10 GBP). The business is highly profitable.
The scale of this activity in China, and the range of methods used by poachers to catch wild birds, are covered in an excellent, but sobering, article in the most recent issue of Goose Bulletin. The authors estimate that between 80,000 and 120,000 ducks, swans and geese are caught illegally in China for the restaurant trade every year.