Deer in Milu Park
Daxing District’s Milu Park has set a good example for promoting popular science in Beijing since its establishment in the 1980s, and has become an outdoor classroom for the public to learn about wildlife.
How you get your children to enjoy the holidays? In Beijing, parents often take their children to visit popular science centres to stimulate their interests in science. To provide more options for parents and children, in recent years, Beijing Municipality has greatly developed popular science centres based on four areas in education, research, training and media.
After milu (the Père David's deer) was reintroduced from the United Kingdom to Nanhaizi—its original habitat in China in the 1980s, Milu Park since became China's first nature reserve for the deer, where they were first held in captivity and gradually released into the wild. The park, a habitat for this endangered animal, has become an outdoor classroom for the public to learn about wildlife, enjoy natural landscapes and adopt social responsibilities in protecting animals and the environment.
Milu Park has taken on titles, including the Patriotism Education Centre of Beijing, the Popular Science Education Centre of Beijing, National Popular Science Education Centre, and the Ecological Civilisation Publicity and Education Centre of Beijing.
Returning to Nanhaizi
For Chinese, the Père David's deer isn't a strange animal, and there have been many stories and descriptions about it since ancient times. When King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty (11th century–256 BC) conquered King Zhou of the Shang Dynasty (16th century–11th century), Prime Minister Jiang Ziya of the Zhou Dynasty rode the deer during wartime. In his poems, Qu Yuan (340–278 BC) mentioned the deer. On unearthed tiles produced during the Han Dynasty (206 BC–AD 220), one can see patterns of the deer. There are nearly 100 poems about the deer written in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907) that had come down through the ages. Medical expert Li Shizhen (1518–1593) of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) described these deer in his books. Emperor Qianlong (reign: 1736– 1795) of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) had an article about the deer engraved on one of its horns.
The Père David's deer, native to China, is gentle and not aggressive. In ancient times, they were hunted to near extinction because their habitats often came close to human beings. After the Han Dynasty (202 BC–AD 220), the number in deer population started to decline.
During the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), they were moved from the beaches of Huanghai Sea to Dadu (today's Beijing) for the hunting of the imperial family. In the early Qing Dynasty, the last group of deer was in captivity in the 210-square-kilometre imperial hunting ground in Nanhaizi.
In 1865, French Father Armand David (1826–1900) discovered a strange animal in an imperial hunting ground guarded by soldiers when investigating flora and fauna in southern Beijing. David was also a zoologist and a botanist, and wanted to know the animal's name. Soldiers didn't know and just called it sibuxiang (“like none of the four”—deer, cow, horse and donkey).
David thought this to be a new discovery. He bribed officials of the imperial hunting ground and smuggled the animal's skins and specimen of its horns and bones from China to the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris by sea.
The animal was identified as new species of the deer. Two years later, David's paper on the discovery of this new species made a stir in the world's animal research community. In accordance with an established practice, the animal was named after “Père David's deer” from the English language.
Before leaving China in 1874, David transported the living deer to zoos in Europe, which enriched their exhibitions and played an important role in ensuring the survival of the species.
In 1894, a flood broke out and water from the Yongding River washed away the imperial hunting ground's walls. The deer were scattered, many of which were hunted and eaten by nearby refugees. In 1900, the Eight-power Allied Forces occupied Beijing, and the rest of the deer were looted. After
that, the deer completely vanished in China.
However, the Père David's deer that lived in Europe were unhappy because their proper habitat needed to be vast wetlands. After they were fed in the zoos, they not only didn't breed but also began to die off. At that moment, Herbrand Arthur Russell (1858–1940), 11th Duke of Bedford decided to buy the only existing 18 Père David's deer and nurtured them at Woburn Abbey.
Woburn Abbey covers a large area, where the Père David's deer lived in a semi-wild environment, similar to their original habitat. The nearly extinct animal miraculously began to breed. During World War II, the number of deer reached 255, but to protect the species, they were evacuated to other parts of the world.
After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the London Zoo gave two pairs of the Père David's deer as a gift to the Beijing Zoo in 1956, but they didn't breed. In 1979, Chinese zoologists including Tan Bangjie (1915–2003) called on reintroducing the deer into China, whose initiative received a positive response from the United Kingdom. In November, 1984, John Ian Robert Russell (1917–2002), the 13th Duke of Bedford, donated 22 Père David's deer to China.
Where was the reintroduced the Père David's deer going to be settled? According to experts, the original habitat of the deer— Nanhaizi is still an ideal place for them for its historical and cultural elements, and natural conditions. On August 22, 1985, 22 Père David's deer arrived in Beijing from Woburn Abbey by air.
The species that lived in foreign lands for nearly a century returned to its homeland. This became a hot topic in the international community of wildlife conservation. The project for reintroducing a species to its original habitat was second to none at that time.
After that, the population of Père David's deer in China greatly increased. China established dedicated nature reserves for the deer in Hubei Province's Shishou and Jiangsu Province's Dafeng. Guo Geng, deputy director of the Milu Ecological Research Centre at Milu Park in Beijing's Nanhaizi said, “As China's only successful reintroduction project, the breeding of deer in the wild has also been one of the world's most successful examples for saving endangered animals.”
A Species Recovered
According to Rixia jiuwenkao (“the studying of old news in Beijing”) compiled by Ying Lian in the Qing Dynasty, “Since the Yuan and Ming dynasties, Nanhaizi's perimeter reached about 80 kilometres.” In ancient times, vast wetlands formed in Nanhaizi after the many changes of the Yongding River's course and accumulated rainwater and spring water.
The place was called Nanhaizi because in the Yuan Dynasty, Mongolian called a large water area haizi and nan means it lies in south part of Beijing. After Ming Emperor Yongle (reign: 1403–1424) moved the capital from Jiangsu Province's Nanjing to Beijing, the imperial family further transformed Nanhaizi into an imperial garden. Nanyouqiufeng (“autumn landscapes in Nanhaizi”) was one of the top 10 sights of Yanjing (Beijing).
However, after a hundred years, Nanhaizi changed a lot and the imperial hunting ground became ruins. In the 1980s, most parts of Nanhaizi were used as fish ponds and only 60-hectare-wetland still contained natural conditions that were suitable for nurturing Père David's deer.
To reintroduce the deer, Beijing Municipality established Milu Park and Beijing Milu Ecological Experimental Centre in Nanhaizi in 1985. At the beginning of 1986, a group of experts determined the first stage of reintroduction was to take five years to restore the deer population in Nanhaizi, and then select appropriate habitats for restoring populations of deer in the wild.
According to an initiative jointly proposed on April 30, 1986 by organisations including the China Milu Foundation, the China Zoological Society and Chinese Association of Natural Science Museums, Nanhaizi would be developed into a nature reserve featuring wetlands and wildlife in suburban Beijing.
Under this initiative, Milu Park not only serves to protect wildlife, carrying out scientific research and scientific education,
but also becomes a place for improving the capital city's ecology and for people to enjoy a life of leisure with scenery.
After a series of infrastructure improvements were carried out in the park, including communications, water, heating and power supplies, roads and landscaping, a nature reserve took shape in Nanhaizi.
By spring of 1990, the population of Père David's deer exceeded more than 100 after breeding. The population had a high pregnancy rate; deerlets enjoyed a high survival rate and developed steadily; the population's structure became reasonable. The population of deer was restored in Nanhaizi.
Guo Geng said, “From 1985 to 1987, we reintroduced 38 Père David's deer from the United Kingdom. From 1993 till this day, many of the deer has been exported from Nanhaizi to China's other regions, over 90 of which were sent to be nurtured in Tian'ezhou Nature Reserve along the Yangtze River in Hubei Province.”
Beijing Milu Ecological Experimental Centre has further carried out scientific researches and enjoyed a high reputation. The centre has a number of laboratories, including ecological, molecular biology, wildlife epidemic disease surveillance and atmospheric environmental monitoring laboratories. These laboratories cover more than 700 square metres and are equipped with over 100 pieces of advanced equipment.
The centre has 64- hectare outdoor observation area and a wealth of wildlife resources, including the Père David's deer, sika deer, huangzhan deer, red deer and the Chinese water deer, which laid a solid foundation for scientific research and education.
The centre has carried out more than 10 scientific research projects for national ministries and committees and Beijing Municipality; worked together with the Institute of Zoology of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, and Beijing Centre for Physical and Chemical Analysis for the basic biological research of the Père David's deer; carried out scientific research of biological diversity and wildlife protection with institutions from the United States and the Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in China's Mount Qomolangma Nature Reserve.
In 1992, the Research Centre of Biodiversity Protection of Beijing was established at the Milu Park in Nanhaizi for carrying outresearch in this regard. Nowadays, Milu Park plays multiple roles in carrying out scientific research and taking on social responsibilities such as promoting environmental protection.
Regarding results of protecting Père David's deer, Guo Geng said, “This is a progress from an industrial to ecological civilisation. There are more than 40 nature reserves for deer in China, which accords with the current ‘animal welfare' supported by the international community.”
Animal welfare is an internationally accepted idea that the environment in which animals live should meet their basic natural needs. It is described as the five freedoms: “freedoms from thirst and hunger, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury, and disease, freedom to express normal behavior, and freedom from fear and distress. Guo Geng said, “People who live in cities usually go to see animals at zoos, but the animals in zoos are actually shut in ‘prisons,' which implies a lack of welfare.”
The Père David's deer is an ungulate and running is one of the deer's characters. Cages are not suitable for them because their living environment requires extensive spaces. Two pairs of the deer that were reintroduced into China in the 1950s and 1960s failed to survive and breed in a zoo. Milu Park in Nanhaizi plays a transitional role from a zoo to a nature reserve, becoming one of the best habitats for deer.
Although Père David's deer is provided relatively favourable spaces, their survival still face risks. The deer has many genetic defects in the aspect of biological diversity because only 18 of Père David's deer survived as a population a century ago.
The genetic defects of Père David's deer are similar to some birth defects of human beings caused by consanguineous marriage. Human being's defects can be judged from their appearances and intelligence quotient but the deer can't be judged from this regard.
These genetic defects are devastating to the deer. Guo Geng said, “Many nature reserves for the deer in China including the Milu Park in Nanhaizi have had similar outbreaks, one of which is Clostridiosis welchii.”
From February to April 2010, Père David's deer died in large numbers in Hubei Province's Sanheyuan along the south bank of the Yangtze River. Forty-five deer died in 31 days, and its mortality rate reached 22.8 percent. On January 5, 2011, many deer died on a farm at Changping District's Mingling Town in Beijing and clinical symptoms weren‘t so obvious, and the deer died off for five consecutive days, at a mortality rate of 75 percent. From March to May, 2015, there were only five deer that survived in an outbreak at a base for re-wilding the deer of a national nature reserve along Luanhe River in Hebei Province.
After conducting a field consultation on this epidemic and carrying out autopsy tests for dead deer in the nature reserve along Luanhe River, experts confirmed the deaths of those deer were due to Clostridiosis welchii. The disease is an epidemic and an opportunistic pathogen that can spread to a variety of animals, especially herbivores.
The release of toxins from Clostridiosis welchii can cause internal bleeding of the deer's organs to the point of death. Experts suspected the deer's genetic defects made them more susceptible to infection, but there aren‘t many effective ways for preventing the virus.
Guo Geng said, “It is dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket. Therefore, we need to send the deer to more healthy natural wetlands and they will not be extinct even if deaths of a large number of the deer occurred in a particular place in the future.”
Milu Park's “welfare” not only meets the needs of Père David's deer, but also benefits other animals that live or dwell there. They include fallow deer, Australian emus, India's peacocks, reintroduced Przewalski's horses that are a rare and endangered subspecies of wild horses native to China that once vanished half a century ago, with weasels, musks, Chinese softshell turtles, Brazilian turtles that were bought and released by people due to their religious beliefs, and even stray cats. Milu Park's environment plays an integral role to improve Beijing's biological diversity.
Science Education Base
Milu Park serves as a research centre for conservation of biodiversity, and a base for scientific education of ecological civilisation. There are over 30 facilities for popular science, including “warning of deforestation,” “edible bird's nest on cliffs,” “shark's fins in the sea,” “earth ark,” poems and paintings for “ecological equilibrium,” and display panels promoting ecological civilisation theory. One of the most shocking facilities is “the world extinct animals' cemetery.”
The “world extinct animals' cemetery” is also known as the “extinction of domino” consisting of a hundred stone tablets engraved with extinct names of species, the year and place of the extinction of one species' wild population.
Some of the stone tablets that toppled over read, “The dodos were extinct in Mauritius in 1680; the steller's sea cows were extinct in the Bering Sea in 1767; the plains zebra were extinct in South Africa in 1883; the Java tiger were extinct in Indonesia in 1988; the clouded leopard was extinct in Taiwan in 1972; the pool frogs were extinct in the United Kingdom in 1999.”
The names of some endangered species engraved on stone tablets that nearly toppled include white-flag dolphins, south China tigers and gibbons of Hainan. Moreover, behind a hand-shaped statue are stone tablets with engraved names of existing animals, including whales,
rhinoceroses, bears and humans.
Guo Geng, the designer of the “extinction of dominos,” said, “The concept is simple. If the loss of biodiversity and ecology is collapse, human beings will be extinct. Therefore, protecting animals is also a way to protect ourselves. On the earth, human beings aren't the toughest species and mice have evolved for tens of millions of years, with large populations, strong fecundity and disaster resistance, whose survival skills are not inferior to human beings. If the “dominoes” gradually topple over someday, the last one will not be human beings. One should visit the “cemetery” for the animals that had been extinct since the industrial revolution. Our morality and ethics shouldn't be limited between people, but also concern the relations between human beings and nature. As an ecological education centre for minors, Milu Park offers a memorial tour, playing a significant role in advancing ecological protection.”
There is a box labeled with the words “Be careful! The world's most dangerous animal lives here.” near the “extinction of dominos.” After opening the outer door of the box, one can see lines of characters— “This is an intelligent mammal but it often massacres its own and other species. The animal is inside another door.” After opening the door is a mirror, which reads, “the world's most dangerous animal is in fact human beings.”
The designer of the “box” is also Guo Geng, whose idea was inspired by worldrenowned zoologist Jane Goodall. In the autumn of 1998, when Goodall visited Milu Park, Guo Geng served as her guide. Goodall gave many proposals on ideas of animal protection and ways of offering science popularisation, including the idea behind the box.
Guo Geng said, “Over the past nearly 20 years, the box has been standing there. When working as a park guide for visitors, I always lead them to the box. After asking a question—what the world's most dangerous animal is, I show them the answer.”
In 2001, the Museum of Milu Park was established and its first indoor permanent exhibition was Legend of the Père David's deer. Exhibitions themed on ecological civilisation have been held for more than 10 years, including the Photo Exhibition for Biodiversity and Chrysanthemum Exhibition, drawing millions of visitors.
In 2011, 3,569 pieces of a variety of deer's specimens from a museum based in Germany were transported into the Museum of the Milu Park and a few years later, the Exhibition of the World's Deer selected from the most of the German's specimens opened to the public, promoting knowledge of deer and their protection. After that, exhibitions held at the museum included the World of Antlers and Achievements of the 30th Anniversary of Biodiversity.
From 2012 to 2016, the park received about 2 million visitors and established cooperative relations with Number One Primary School of Yinghai, Dongluoyuan Primary School and Fensiting Primary School to offer popular science courses through games for ecological civilisation for the schools' teachers and students. “'Enjoying the Fun of Nature,” one of the courses, was awarded the third prize of the 2016 Outstanding Activities of Beijing's Popular Science Centres.
The park presents six dramas about the ecological civilisation, five of which has been showed onstage more than 20 times, which play a role in encouraging public participation in this regard. The park has organised more than 1,000 lectures, including the knowledge of the Père David's deer and its reintroduction, and animals' protection.
The park often organises a variety of popular science activities such as “Exploring Milu Park at Night,” “Popular Science Winter Camp,” “Dramas for Popular Science” and “Becoming a Guide of Milu Park.”
One of the highlights is the “Lecture Hall of Natural Stories” with games and hands-on activities to encourage people to learn more about ecology.
There is a brook in Milu Park with weeping willows along its banks. Walking on a bridge across the brook, one can view creatures nearly extinct. The park not only serves to protect Père David's deer and scientific research about its biological diversity, but also gives viewers a sense of awe for nature and ecological civilisation through educational activities themed on environmental protection, giving the park more significance.
Milu Park Museum
A path in Milu Park
A teacher talks to children from a winter camp at an exhibition hall.
Observing a deer sculpture at Milu Park
Participants from a science activity organised by Milu Park