China relocates 5,000 people to protect cranes

Updated: 2014-08-25 08:15


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HARBIN - More than 5,000 people are to be relocated in northeast China to protect a colony of red-crowned crane, a species with a population of only 2,000 in the world.

The red-crowned crane is an important symbol in Chinese mythology, representing longevity and immortality. A common image in Chinese art is a hermit or reclusive scholar who cultivates bamboo and looks after cranes.

Zhalong National Nature Reserve in Heilongjiang Province, covering 210,000 hectares, is China's largest artificial breeding center for the cranes and home to about 20 percent of the population. Local people mainly live by fishing or by selling reeds.

"Several decades ago, the water was clean. Fish and avifauna abounded. We were not worried about our lives," said Jia Huifang from Zhalong in west Heilongjiang. "But now the water level has dropped and the fish are gone. Making a living is harder than before."

Human activity seriously affects the birds. The environment is deteriorating and people are taking away the cranes' food. In March 2005, fire broke out when farmers were reclaiming land, and destroyed much of the local marshy grassland. Fortunately it did not kill any birds.

According to Wang Wenfeng, a manager at the reserve, the only way to stop the deterioration of environment is to move the villagers out; all 5,396 of them.

Over 160 million yuan (26 million U.S. dollars) of public money has been invested in the scheme and the search is on for land where the villagers can be resettled. The first batch are due to be relocated before the winter of 2015. It is not known when will the last batch be moved out.

Most villagers support the scheme, but are worried. "Our children need schools and our parents need hospitals; that is why we want to move," Jia said. "But what shall we live on if we leave this land?"

The local government solution is tourism: birdwatching and a spa. Guan Zhixin, Party chief with Halawusu Village, told Xinhua that 4.16 hectares of land have been allocated for more than 900 evacuees.

"In three years we are to build up a spa town which will provide 700 plus job opportunities," he said.