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Hungry birds to get help from above

By Wang Qian ( China Daily )

Updated: 2012-01-17

JIUJIANG, Jiangxi - If weather permits, China will launch its first airdrop of food on Tuesday for starving migratory birds that have taken up residence around its largest freshwater lake.

Around 2 tons of fish and corn will be airdropped to a 133-square-kilometer reserve near drought-hit Poyang Lake, said Zhao Jinsheng, director of the food and resources office of the Jiangxi Poyang Lake National Nature Reserve Authority.

"If many birds turn out to eat the dropped food, we will arrange the next round of airdrops after Spring Festival," Zhao said, adding that a total of 25 tons of food has been prepared, including 10 tons of fish, 10 tons of grain and 5 tons of corn. Spring Festival falls on Jan 23.

Zeng Ming, Yangtze program manager at the World Wildlife Fund (China), said it is good to see authorities are working hard to protect birds.

Poyang Lake is connected to the Yangtze River, the country's longest river, and provides a habitat for half a million migratory birds, such as hooded cranes. Because the fish population in the lake has dwindled due to the drought, birds are finding food scarce.

Since November, nearly 200,000 migratory birds have gathered around the lake for the winter, about 50,000 more than the average amount in the past decades, according to the statistics from the reserve.

"More birds have come, but the drought has largely reduced the number of fish and shrimp in the lake, posing a threat to the birds until they leave in March," Zhao said.

Every year, Zhao's team distributes food manually to birds, but this year they thought it necessary to do an airdrop because the ongoing drought has forced birds to search for food in a wider area around the lake. Only an airdrop can help reach them, Zhao said.

The Poyang Lake National Nature Reserve Authority also plans to release 165 million newly hatched fish into the lake to boost the food supply for birds.

The shrinking aquatic population in the lake has also endangered the freshwater finless porpoise, a species unique to the Yangtze River.

Locally called "river pigs", some finless porpoises have been found starved to death in Poyang Lake, said Wang Kexiong, a professor of the Institute of Hydrobiology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Wang said most of the dozens of river pigs he tracks are suffering hunger.

In addition, "river pigs like to live in deep water, and when the dry season comes, they could dive into mud by mistake, and some will be choked to death", Wang said.

The Yangtze River has been regularly affected by dry spells since 2000. On Monday, Poyang Lake spanned an area of 230 square kilometers, which is only a fraction of the 4,900 square kilometers it covered at its peak.

China Daily

(China Daily 01/17/2012 page7)

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