From hunters to rangers: fighting for the protection of wildlife

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Zhong Junde and his peers stopped and observed an argali sheep wandering through the dense forest up close before disappearing into the woods.

If there were 30 years, the animal would have suffered a different fate. At the time, the 38.8 km² forest area in southwest China’s Sichuan Province was a hunting ground for Zhong and other villagers, where they hunted with crossbows, guns or ropes.

“Hunter’s village”

In the 1980s, the village of Xinyi, with more than 130 households, was known as a “hunting village”. Life was tough in this remote mountain village, where people depended primarily on agriculture, but most of the hillside land was barren.

“We have lived bitter lives in the past, and the hunt could help us earn a few more dollars, and more importantly, supplement our dining tables with meat that was scarce at the time,” Du said. Lin, 59, Party leader. of Xinyi, who was himself a village hunter.

Recalling one of his terrible hunting parties, Du said he had already killed nine argali at a time, setting a record in the village.

Villagers also felled large trees for sale while small ones were cut for firewood. The temperature in the mountain was quite low in winter, and each household burned an average of 7 tons of firewood each year, which meant that a household would deforest about 0.07 hectares of land.

“As we hunted further into the forest and harvested more, we could see fewer animals,” Du said.

In 1988, China enacted a Law on Wildlife Conservation with the aim of strengthening wildlife protection.

But it was not easy for the villagers to bid farewell to their traditional way of life, and people were initially reluctant to change. Zhong was sentenced to seven years in prison in the early 1990s for illegal hunting.

Deforestation also peaked around this time and nature’s revenge quickly followed. In 1992, a century-old flood hit the village, devastating many homes.

The natural calamity sounded the alarm for the inhabitants and prompted them to stop the logging and poaching activities which were wreaking havoc on the environment.

In retrospect, Zhong, now 60, considers his captivity to be serendipitous as it made him realize the drastic effects of hunting wild animals. “If the animals had disappeared because of our hunting, how could our future generations know about species like the giant panda or the argali?

Keep nature

Today, the villagers have embarked on a new nature conservation mission, years after laying down their weapons.

They turned to other sources of income such as animal husbandry, beekeeping and growing herbs. The village now has access to electricity and people use electric heaters instead of firewood for heat.

Zhong became a ranger and leads a 14-person ranger squad. He also embarked on beekeeping, earning more than 20,000 yuan (about US $ 3,140) each year.

Wildlife protection efforts are in full swing in Xinyi. The Ranger Squad has installed infrared cameras in the forest to monitor wildlife while keeping an eye out for poaching activity.

Thanks to conservation efforts, the forest area is regaining its natural splendor. Two giant pandas with cubs were captured by cameras earlier this year.

“We used to compete to photograph wild animals, but nowadays we only shoot animals with cameras,” Zhong said.


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