Story | 30 Dec, 2019

A Reflection on Protected Areas in Serving Wildlife Migration: Endangered Oriental Storks

CEESP News: by Linda Wong and Jinfeng Zhou, Secretariat of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF).

Starving migratory Oriental Storks have been found in northeast China this wintering season. Field investigations found that the lack of food in unfriendly Protected Areas, as well as poisoning, were among the main reasons. This lead to an reflection on area-based conservation measures of the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework.

Oriental stork (Ciconia boyciana) is an endangered species with an estimated global population less than 3,000. These protected birds migrate about 3,000 km from the breeding grounds in the Amur region in China and Russia to the main wintering ground in the Yangtse basin in China. [1] 

In October 2019, we received multiple reports from volunteers that these migratory birds were found staved in Hebei Province and Tianjin City in northern China, which are the key wintering sites along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAP). We, the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF), started field investigations immediately.

What we found is that it's difficult for the Oriental Storks to find food in Protected Areas (PA) including the Qilihai National Wetlands Reserve in Tianjin and the Caofeidian Provincial Wetlands Reserve in Hebei Province.

Bodies of Oriental Storks were found in Tangshan on Dec 19th 2019.       Photo: CBCGDF Investigation Team

Bodies of Oriental Storks were found in Tangshan on December 19th 2019. Photo Credit: CBCGDF Investigation Team.

The main problems we discovered in the Qilihai PA include: 1) The water in the wetlands is too deep for these birds to stand in the water; 2) The harvesting of reeds by local workers disturbed and scared them away; 3) Illegal fishing in the PA greatly impact the food supply of the Oriental Storks; 4) It's difficult for independant parties to observe the conditions, due to a lack of public oversight mechanism.

We learned about the situation mainly from information collected by the unmanned aerial vehicle, and from researchers who reported lost signals from the Oriental Storks they were tracking, after these birds flew into the Reserve. The problems in Caofeidian Wetlands (in Tangshan, Hebei Province) are: 1) A significant part of core zones of the PA were outsourced to aquaculture farmers, who are unfriendly to foraging birds and try to scare them away with firecrackers; [2] 2) Poisoning and illegal poaching were found. [3] In our investigations, a total of 13 deaths (suspected of poisoning) has been recorded in December 2019 in Tianjin and Caofeidian.

To help their wintering and migration, we have sent official letters to the authorities including China's Ministry of Natural Resources and the Tianjin Municipal Government, reporting to them about the migration difficulties, and suggested that: 1) To carry out a thorough assessment for the Oriental Storks’ wintering conditions; 2) To strengthen managements of wetland reserves so that PAs are fully engaged in serving migratory waterfowls; 3) To discourage unfriendly activities by local farmers by properly compensating their losses from foraging birds; 4) To engage and mobilize public participation in wildlife protection.

At the same time, the CBCGDF and its volunteers kept on patrolling the wintering sites for the migratory birds, and reported any irregularities to local authorities. [4][5] As an NGO, we have launched a public fundraising project calling for people to help Oriental Storks on popular social media such like TikTok, which have received more than 2,000,000 readings in the past 2 weeks.

Protected Areas are the key tools for biodiversity conservation as stated in the United Nation's Aichi Biodiversity Targets (2011-2020), with its Target 11 calls for effective conservation of 17% of land and inland waters and 10% of coastal and marine areas.

As China’s leading conservation organization with tens of thousands of registered volunteers, what often puzzles us is that an area-based conservation approach may not always be the best strategy, especially when it comes to protecting migratory species. Wild animals don’t understand artificial boundaries of protected areas set by humans. They simply follow their instinct to seek the best survival conditions.

The shocking data released by the IPBES Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services warns us that species extinction rates are accelerating with 1 million species at the risk of disappearing over the next 30 years.[6] As the 2020 UN Biodiversity Conference will be held  in China, when the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework will be signed in Kunming, Yunnan Province, we believe that the next decade’s new biodiversity targets should not be disproportionately focused on area-based measures.

Compared to Areas-based strategy, we need to be more outcome-oriented to ensure the rate of species loss will decrease. A strategy to better mainstream biodiversity conservation to mobilize all walks of life should also be formulated. Other effective measures should also be encouraged; and biodiversity finance should be carefully evaluated to ensure maximized effectiveness.

[1] Oriental Stork (Ciconia boyciana), World birds online guide, retriaved on Dec. 23, 2019  

[2] Ninety Percent of Caofeidian Wetland Was Outsourced and Turned into Fishponds | investigation of Oriental Storks Starving (2019/11/27)

[3] CBCGDF Concerns | When Migratory Birds Move to the Peak, Volunteers Have Noticed the Phenomenon of Poisoning Migratory Birds in Many Places (2019/11/22)

[4] The CBCGDF CCA for Oriental Stork at Tianjin Established, Guarding Migratory Birds’ Migration Fortress (2019/11/26)

[5]  Twelve Oriental Storks Were Poisoned in Tianjin and Hebei?! CBCGDF Visited the Site Again for Investigation | Sent a Letter to Tianjin Suggests Strengthening Protection(2019/12/9)

[6] IPBES, Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services