The bird man of Ti­bet Or­nithol­o­gist tastes the high life on plateau home to dis­tinct species

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA -

Yan­dao, 35, had never been to the Qing­hai-Ti­bet Plateau be­fore he joined an ob­ser­va­tion team on China’s sec­ond sci­en­tific ex­pe­di­tion to the plateau in June.

Yan­dao, a mem­ber of the Blang eth­nic group, comes from a vil­lage in Xishuang­banna, in South­west China’s Yun­nan prov­ince.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing with a de­gree in zo­ol­ogy from South­west Forestry Univer­sity in 2013, he be­gan work as an or­nithol­o­gist at the Chi­nese Academy of Sciences’ Kun­ming In­sti­tute of Zo­ol­ogy.

China’s first large-scale sci­en­tific ex­pe­di­tion to the Qing­hai-Ti­bet Plateau was con­ducted in the 1970s. The sec­ond ex­pe­di­tion will last five to 10 years, cov­er­ing more than 50 dis­ci­plines in­clud­ing ge­ol­ogy, prehistoric life, geo­physics, cli­mate, zo­ol­ogy and botany.

Dozens of sci­en­tists spe­cial­iz­ing in dif­fer­ent fields have been di­vided into groups to re­search the bi­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity of the plateau and draw up a habi­tat map to be used for preser­va­tion and tourism pur­poses.

When Yan­dao first ar­rived in Shuanghu county, in the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion, at an av­er­age al­ti­tude of 5,000 me­ters, he suf­fered se­vere al­ti­tude sick­ness.

De­spite feel­ing un­well, Yan­dao was ex­cited to be­gin work­ing with his col­leagues to col­lect data on lo­cal bird species.

“I am so lucky to have the chance to join this ex­pe­di­tion,’’ Yan­dao said.

Af­ter years of re­search, Yan­dao com­mands an ex­ten­sive knowl­edge of birds and can iden­tify some 500 species just from their sounds.

“The unique alpine en­vi­ron­ment with thin oxy­gen and in­tense ul­tra­vi­ole t light is a habi­tat for sev­eral dis­tinc t species, some of which I have never seen be­fore,” Yan­dao said.

The bird pop­u­la­tion can be seen as a barom­e­ter for the re­gion’s en­vi­ron­men­tal changes and will at­tract more bird-watch­ers to visit, he said.

Yan­dao’s par­ents were ini­tially not sup­port­ive of his choice of work.

“They hoped I would get a sta­ble job in an of­fice, but I just want to have free­dom, like the birds I study,’’ he said.

In re­cent years, Yan­dao’s re­search has taken him to al­most ev­ery pre­fec­ture and city in Yun­nan track­ing bird pop­u­la­tions by means of reg­u­lar sur­veys. In 2015, he joined an in­ter­na­tional team con­duct­ing a bird sur­vey in Kenya.

Yan­dao is al­ways in the field look­ing for new in­for­ma­tion and changes, said Yang Xiao­jun, his col­league on the ex­pe­di­tion team.

“The ap­peal of sci­en­tific ex­pe­di­tions is to ex­plore new things, which has be­come my life-long pur­suit,” Yan­dao said.


A large num­ber of wa­ter birds, such as black-necked cranes and bar-headed geese, spend the win­ter at wet­lands in the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion’s Lhun­zhub county.

Black-necked cranes are one of the dis­tinct species liv­ing on the Qing­hai-Ti­bet Plateau.

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