China Daily (Hong Kong)
Birds help fortunes of villagers take flight
KUNMING — Hou Tiguo has a very special talent — he can tell what kind of birds are around simply by their chirps. His skills do not stop there, as he has honed his “bird guide” abilities from working at a nature reserve in Southwest China’s Yunnan province for more than 30 years.
“It’s not difficult to tell whether they are in a good mood or a bad mood,” the 52-year-old man says.
Hou lives in Baihualing village of Baoshan city, which is located in the Gaoligong Mountain National Nature Reserve, a paradise of wild birds. More than 520 bird species, or nearly a third of the country’s total, have been recorded in the village, making it a top bird-watching destination.
However, the story was very different in the past. Poverty-stricken villagers deep in the mountains had to hunt wild birds to stave off hunger.
In December 1995, initiated by the nature reserve, the village established an association for biodiversity conservation. Local officials, villagers, teachers, students and forest rangers became members of the association and started to protect the wild animals and ecosystem.
With the help of the local government, villagers were encouraged to make use of wild bird resources to develop the local economy.
Since an increasing number of bird-watchers and shutterbugs have been attracted to the birdwatching destination in recent years, more villagers have engaged in work to accommodate bird-loving tourists.
Apart from working as a birdwatching guide, Hou also runs a homestay. In Baihualing village, there are more than 60 “bird guides” like Hou, and many villagers who left to find work in cities have returned to jump on the bird-watching bandwagon.
The booming bird-watching industry in Baihualing not only helps villagers shake off poverty but also strengthens the awareness of environmental protection.
To promote the development of bird-watching tourism and gain more fame, Baoshan city has also held international bird-watching festivals and photography competitions.
The success of Baihualing village has now spread to other places across Yunnan. Since realizing the small birds are cash cows, villagers have given up hunting them and now conduct regular patrols in the forest, stopping bird-hunting and deforestation instead.
In Sanhe village, Nujiang Lisu autonomous prefecture, many “bird hunters” have transformed into bird protectors and shaken off poverty.
“Although local tourism was affected by the coronavirus pandemic, I still earned 7,000 yuan ($1,088) via bird-watching,” says Li Zhonghua, a villager of Sanhe, adding that he takes his 3-year-old son to feed birds every day and teaches him to love and protect them.
“Visitors also bought many local specialty products after viewing the wild birds, which brought me much more income than I expected,” says Yuan Kaiyou, another villager in Sanhe.