The Deer Guardian of Yun-meng Lakes

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“There is a big lake in the State of Chu, where rhi­noc­eros and deer can be seen ev­ery­where.” A say­ing from Mozi went like this. ( Mozi , the book named af­ter the great Chi­nese philoso­pher Mozi.)

Lo­cated in Shishou City, Hubei Prov­ince, China, the Swan Is­land of Yangtze River was a part of the an­cient Yun- meng Lakes. It had been a deer habi­tat since an­cient times and was now a re­serve land for the Chi­nese milu deer. With more than a thou­sand deer, this re­serve boasted the largest wild milu deer pop­u­la­tion in China— and even in the world.

200 years ago, milu deer were prac­ti­cally ex­tinct in China, ex­cept for the 18 deer kept in the Nan­haizi Royal Hunt­ing Park in Bei­jing. When the Eight- Power Al­lied Forces oc­cu­pied Bei­jing, these 18 deer dis­ap­peared in the war. Around 1900, the Bri­tish Duke of Bed­ford pur­chased 18 milu deer from some Euro­pean zoos and kept them at his es­tate.

In the 1990s, the milu deer was in­tro­duced back to China from the United King­dom and have resided and thrived on Swan Is­land ever since. “This is our elf on the side of Yun-meng Lakes.” Li Pengfei said. Words are not enough to de­scribe the beauty of these an­i­mals.

Now in his six­ties, Li Pengfei has been work­ing with milu deer for more than 20 years. He was once a lo­cal se­condary school teacher, with a com­fort­able work­ing en­vi­ron­ment and a de­cent salary. How­ever, he even­tu­ally gave up his teach­ing job and worked in the re­serve lands, which are ge­o­graph­i­cally re­mote, with in­con­ve­nient com­mutes and harsh liv­ing con­di­tions.

In 1995, an ex­per­i­ment was

con­ducted con­cern­ing re­stock­ing the area with deer. Since there was no prece­dent, Li Pengfei had been track­ing down the deer in the wild for many years in or­der to learn more about their liv­ing habits and reg­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties.

In the sum­mer of 1998, a dis­as­trous flood broke out in the Yangtze River Val­ley, turn­ing the re­serve on the old wa­ter­course of the river into a big swamp. “Jiao­jiao,” a one-week-old fe­male baby deer, was washed away from its mother by a tor­rent. Li Pengfei, who was then re­spon­si­ble for an­i­mal pro­tec­tion, for­tu­nately took her in.

Af­ter that, Li Pengfei be­gan to feed this baby deer ten times a day, and bravely sim­u­lated a mother deer’s hy­gienic be­hav­iors by per­son­ally scrub­bing Jiao­jiao’s anus. From then on, Jiao­jiao was al­most in­sep­a­ra­ble from him. When­ever she heard Li Pengfei’s foot­steps, she scam­pered over hap­pily.

When Jiao­jiao turned one year old, Li Pengfei re­leased her into her wild deer herd with tears in his eyes. In the first few months, when he went to the place, Jiao­jiao would still run to him. Nowa­days she is no dif­fer­ent from other wild deer—Li Pengfei could no longer dis­tin­guish her from the oth­ers.

The story of Li Pengfei and Jiao­jiao im­pressed many peo­ple. Wuhan TV Sta­tion made a chil­dren’s TV pro­gram named

Go­ingHome , with Jiao­jiao as the lead­ing hero. The TV pro­gram won a “Best Ac­tor Award” and a “World Peace Prize” in an in­ter­na­tional film com­pe­ti­tion in Italy.

To­day, the num­ber of milu deer has in­creased from 94 when it was first brought back to China to more than 1,000. It has be­come a model for suc­cess­ful rein­tro­duc­tion of species in China.

Milu deer run­ning hap­pily in the na­ture re­serve 麋鹿在保护区欢快奔跑

The Swan Is­land Deer Na­ture Re­serve 天鹅洲麋鹿保护区

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