Guardian embraces lake and its birds

Updated: 2013-10-17 07:13

By Yan Weijue (China Daily USA)

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At 1.72 meters tall, dark and lean, Zhang Yong has demonstrated immense willpower in his job as guardian angel of Gahai Lake in Gannan Tibetan autonomous prefecture over the past 10 years.

The lake and its wetland, only 50 km away from Luqu town in Northwest China's Gansu province, occupying an area of 120 square kilometers, serves as a rest stop and hatching destination for tens of thousands of migratory birds from spring through fall.

But for much of the last century the land has become increasingly inhospitable to the birds because of severe droughts. In the late 1990s, the local government started to notice the degradation and started to carry out ecological protection efforts, establishing a conservation station in the area in 2003.

Zhang, who had worked in the local forestry department for eight years, joined the campaign in 2003 when he was 31, and began his mission to save the State-level nature reserve.

"My job covers monitoring and taking down data of the migrant birds, the wetland as well as the lake. Sometimes I go out there to ensure no poaching is happening," says Zhang, who is now the station's deputy director.

Since 2003, Zhang and his colleagues have grown from a team of two to 19 staff members and have completed a number of projects, including diverting water from Quzhong River to the Gahai Lake to prevent loss of water, setting up fences to stop uninvited intrusion and restoring the wetland and pastures by moisturizing and getting rid of rats, efforts which have seen positive results, according to Zhang.

"There were only about 5,000 migrant birds coming to Gahai in 2003. But the number increased to 32,000 this year," he says, adding that the size of the wetland also soared from 480 to around 2,200 hectares today.

Despite the improvements, the wetland, with operating costs heavily reliant on subsidies from local government, must not become over-commercialized as it is still a fragile area, according to Zhang.

"Currently we receive 6,000 to 7,000 tourists annually, which is enough for me as I am really concerned about some uncivilized behaviors from them," he says.

"In peak season (July and August), many of them, especially those self-driving tourists, are inclined to throw garbage along the road outside the reserve which can stretch as far as 10 km and we have to clean up after them every two or three days," he says.

He has endured a decade living in such a remote environment with a modest monthly income of 3,000 yuan ($485) because of his love for nature and sense of responsibility, according to Zhang, who has read many books to get a better understanding of his role at the wetland. In 2010, he became a contract photographer with the Xinhua News Agency.

"I love nature. I have loved it since I was very, very young," he says, smiling.

 Guardian embraces lake and its birds

Zhang Yong tries to rescue a wounded crane at Gahai Lake in Gannan Tibetan autonomous prefecture, where he has worked as a guardian for 10 years. Provided to China Daily

(China Daily USA 10/17/2013 page10)